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LETTER: Make federal road dollars stretch as far as possible

Monday, January 5, 2009 | 12:26 p.m. CST; updated 12:59 p.m. CST, Monday, January 5, 2009

Our state, like many others, is facing economic challenges in the days ahead. But with these challenges we will have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to shape Missouri’s economic and transportation future. All evidence points to a substantial economic stimulus package being approved by the federal government in the weeks ahead. Transportation infrastructure funds will be a very important aspect of the federal program. To that end, the Missouri Department of Transportation has compiled a list of ready-to-go projects for the anticipated funds. We must keep in mind that just because a project is ready, it may not be the best use of these dollars.

MoDOT’s performance has been excellent during the past four years, and it has demonstrated a renewed competence that seemed to be missing not that long ago. As the new inspector general for transportation in Missouri, I would like to issue this challenge to MoDOT: Review each project to be accomplished using federal stimulus funds. Place some additional criteria into the decision making process.

We have been told that these funds will be available on a use-it-or-lose-it basis, and if we don’t lock these funds up in a short time, they will not be available to us. That certainly is an important factor in the process. As a member of the Missouri Unemployment Council, I know putting people to work is also crucial. I believe that the innovative thinking and progressive ideas that have driven the Transportation Department in the past few years can be even better.

We must look deeper into the Missouri economy. Are we maximizing the impact of the dollars we are spending on Missouri products? Has there been a comprehensive life-cycle analysis on the construction we are doing? Have projects been reviewed for their impact, either positive or negative, on our environment? Can projects show a direct link to conserving foreign oil? Are we building projects that have a long-term effect on our transportation system as well as our economy? Will the dollars we spend today still be serving us 10 years from now? Twenty? Projects that we do now should show relevance and value long after the impact has faded from the initial spending of the stimulus dollars.

Will this be a simple, quick and easy task? Absolutely not. A comprehensive study of these projects could be expected to take months, maybe even years to complete, and yet we only have days and weeks. But I am confident that it can be done. Henry Drummond once said, “Unless a man undertakes more than he can possibly do, he will never do all that he can.” We will have quick decisions to make, there is no doubt about that, but they can be wise decisions. We need to compound the investments we are about to make: They can generate jobs in the short-term, certainly not a bad thing, or they can grow into the foundation for Missouri’s future.

I want to make sure every dollar spent in Missouri is spent wisely. I issue this challenge to bring new ideas to the process. I’ve shared my ideas with you. If you have thoughts you would like to share with me that will be held in strict confidence I would welcome the input. You can e-mail me at moinspectorgeneral@sbcglobal.net.

 


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