COLUMBIA —Highway fatalities are on the decline in Missouri, and the people at the state Department of Transportation couldn't be happier about it.
MoDOT Director Pete Rahn said in a news release touting the agency's accomplishments during the past year that none of them tops the drop in highway deaths the state has experienced.
Missouri thus far this year has seen 905 highway deaths, MoDOT spokeswoman Sally Oxenhandler said. In 2007, there were 992, marking the first year since 1993 that the state had seen fewer than 1,000 highway fatalities. That beat the Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety's goal by a year.
“Over the last two years, Missouri has seen a 21 percent decrease in traffic deaths – the second-largest decrease in the nation,” Rahn said in the release. “That means more people are arriving alive and are here to ring in the new year with family and friends.”
Although final numbers are unavailable for 2008, statistics from the Missouri State Highway Patrol show traffic deaths in Columbia and Boone County are following the statewide trend. There were 27 traffic deaths in Boone County in 2006 and 22 in 2007. In Columbia, those numbers were 14 and 8, respectively.
MoDOT gives at least some of the credit for declining deaths to its efforts to improve Missouri roads. As part of the Better Roads, Brighter Future initiative, enhancements in pavement, striping and signs, as well as the addition of rumble strips on major highways, have helped prevent accidents. The agency also cited warning signs along highways that alert drivers to special conditions, work zones and other highway issues.
Highway patrol educational programs, such as Arrive Alive and Battle of the Belt, also deserve credit, MoDOT officials said.
MoDOT's other significant accomplishments this year include an improvement in road condition ratings. In 2003, only 44 percent of Missouri roads were considered in good condition, compared to 78 percent in 2008. That progress was recognized by the Pew Center on the States, which gave Missouri a B-plus in infrastructure performance.
“National recognition was unexpected but welcome news to us,” Oxenhandler said. Only four other states received a score higher than Missouri.
The Missouri House of Representatives also recognized MoDOT this past spring for the work done to keep roads clear and safe in what was an exceptionally harsh winter.
Goals to keep the drop in highway deaths plummeting are still in action for MoDOT. It plans to continue paving shoulders and adding them to roads that don't have them now, Oxenhandler said, and it also will continue to work on its Safe and Sound Bridge Improvement Plan. That plan began in September and calls for repairing 802 of Missouri’s worst bridges within the next five years.
“We have these two major initiatives but will continue with our other maintenance and construction projects to improve roads and make them safer,” Oxenhandler said.