COLUMBIA — The Missouri Department of Transportation is preparing to pare down its construction plans for the coming years.
A new five-year construction plan was approved by the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission on July 2. The plan detailed a sharp drop in state transportation funding beginning July 1, 2009, the start of the 2010 fiscal year. The drop in funding marks the end of the bond money MoDOT received from the passage of Amendment 3 in 2004. The bond money was used to improve some of Missouri’s busiest roads and accelerate high-priority road projects across the state.
“Over the last few years, Missouri has seen record highway construction,” MoDOT spokesman Jeff Briggs said. “But we’ve run out of the ability to bond finance. We’re going to have to stretch our money to maintain what we have.”
Contributing to the money crunch are rising gas prices and increasing costs for asphalt, a petroleum-based product. The department’s budget will decrease from its current level of $1.23 billion to $575 million by 2013, leaving enough money to keep up with maintenance and safety projects across the state, but not much else.
“We’ve been doing studies on I-70,” Briggs said. “It’s 40 to 50 years old and is the busiest corridor in the state. It needs to be improved, widened and replaced, but it would cost $3.5 billion over 10 years, and we just don’t have the money. We would like to widen it to eight lanes, but all we can do is resurface it, patch it and keep it safe.”
Briggs said MoDOT has not yet had to discuss cutting specific projects, but he admitted that day may come. In the meantime, the department is going to continue construction at its current pace through next July. “We have another very ambitious construction year because we still have some Amendment 3 money available,” Briggs said. “But we’re planning ahead now so we don’t make more commitments than we can handle in the future.”
Right now, there is no apparent solution for MoDOT’s funding troubles. According to Briggs, Missouri legislative ideas have included the implementation of toll roads, an increase in Missouri fuel tax or sales tax or designating a portion of general funds for transportation, but nothing has proven successful.
“But our role is to make the best use of the resources we’ve got,” Briggs said.