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MoDot director says more funding needed for roads

Wednesday, February 6, 2008 | 2:51 p.m. CST; updated 4:26 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY— Delivering what is likely the final mandatory annual update on the Missouri Department of Transportation, Director Pete Rahn touted accountability and safety records Wednesday while asking lawmakers for more money.

“While the public has filet mignon expectations, MoDOT has Filet-O-Fish funding,” Rahn told a joint session of the Legislature. He said the public has requested $37 billion worth of transportation projects over the next 20 years while the department is likely to receive only around $19 billion.

Rahn credited road improvement projects, such as one that will repave and improve lane markers and signs along 5,600 miles of highways by 2012, with making the state’s transportation system safer. In 1993, for the first time in more than a decade, fewer than 1,000 people died in vehicle accidents, he said. The state also saw 118 fewer people die in traffic accidents in 2007 than in 2006, he said.

For several years, Rahn has warned that the money available for transportation projects would drop off in 2010. In his speech Wednesday, he renewed concern about a financial “perfect storm” with smaller budgets made worse by rising costs for road construction materials.

He urged lawmakers to find money for projects to expand lanes and reduce congestion on Interstate 70 and Interstate 44, renovate problem bridges and expand Amtrak service. But the shopping list isn’t cheap. Rahn estimates it would cost:

— $7 billion to expand I-70 and I-44 with dedicated lanes to separate tractor-trailers from passenger vehicles.

— $300 million to $500 million over 10 years to repair problem large bridges or $7 billion to replace them.

— $10 million to add rail tracks and an electronic messaging system at stations.

Without state efforts to bolster funding, Rahn warned, “we will go from an improving highway system to one that is deteriorating.”

Lawmakers began requiring the State of Transportation speech in 2004 to increase the department’s accountability to the Legislature and public. Since then, the department has a new director and the Legislature has regained confidence in the agency.

The law requiring the speech expires, and it is unlikely the Legislature will extend it.

About half of the state’s 192 lawmakers skipped portions of the speech.


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