Columbia City Council votes to adopt improvement projects, seek federal funding

Wednesday, February 8, 2012 | 7:04 p.m. CST; updated 9:46 p.m. CST, Wednesday, February 8, 2012

COLUMBIA — Although federal money is scarce, the City Council approved a list of improvement projects for which it is seeking millions of dollars from the federal government.

The request includes projects such as runway and terminal improvements at Columbia Regional Airport and the paving and landscaping of Eighth Street, also known as the Historic Avenue of the Columns.

Priority Projects

Here's a list of the capital projects the Columbia City Council has identified as priorities for federal money in 2012:

Runway and terminal improvements at Columbia Regional Airport.

Two-Mile Prairie wastewater treatment facility in southern Boone County.

East Columbia transportation extension to Interstate 70, with associated work on Stadium Boulevard, Ballenger Road and Route WW.

Improvements to the U.S. 63 and Route WW interchange.

Reconfigured ramps and traffic signals at U.S. 63 and Route AC.

New Scott Boulevard-Interstate 70 interchange near Midway.

Rehabilitation of the COLT railroad.

Upgrade to Columbia renewable energy biomass facility to generate renewable power from agricultural biomass and non-agricultural waste products.

Paving and landscaping of Eighth Street, also known as the Historic Avenue of the Columns, downtown.

New transit vehicles to replace older city buses.

Transit support equipment and passenger amenities, including technology and waiting area improvements.

With the national debt running extremely high, however, the prospect of receiving federal money for local projects is bleak.

"Money is tight in Washington," said Paul Sloca, spokesman for 9th District U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth. "Some tough decisions are going to be made with regard to the federal budget and getting spending under control."

The problem is, Sloca added, we're $15 trillion in debt.

"It's just hard to find money right now."

Still, the city is continuing in its quest for federal money to cover the cost of several major projects. The council voted Monday night to adopt a list of projects.

"Our next step is to determine what potential funding sources are and communicate with our congressional delegation to make sure we put our best case forward," Toni Messina, a spokeswoman for the city, said. 

Columbia officials reached out to Luetkemeyer's office in January seeking a point of contact for future requests, Sloca said. Luetkemeyer's office has heard nothing from the city since.

"The list is similar to lists we've submitted in the past," Messina said. "One of the differences this year is we need to work with funding agencies to get on their list of planned projects."

The city has yet to submit official requests to federal agencies such as the U.S. Department of Transportation, Messina said.

Fifth Ward Councilwoman Helen Anthony said it's incumbent upon the city to do everything it can to secure federal aid.

"There's a certain procedure that has to be followed to qualify for federal assistance," Anthony said. "This is the start of the process."

The 2012 federal priorities are associated mostly with long-standing and continuing capital project needs, according to a report to the council from City Manager Mike Matthes. These had been targeted for earmarks in past years.

An earmark is an amount of federal money designated for a specific project.

"Blaine does not support earmarks," Sloca said. "He never has." 

Spokespeople for U.S. Sens. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said they hadn't seen the city's list of funding priorities and had little to say about them.

Matthes highlighted the airport among several other "high priority goals" the city would communicate to various levels of government.

Boone County also supports the East Columbia transportation extension project, the airport expansion project and the Two-Mile Prairie wastewater treatment facility project, which would accommodate an expanded airport, according to the report.

Those are three of the 11 proposals in the resolution approved by the council.

"We hope we receive federal assistance for some of these projects," Anthony said.

Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe said she was pleased to see a project to improve the U.S. 63 and Route AC interchange on the list. The project would improve the interchange with ramps and traffic signals.

"That's a nightmare we've been trying to get improvement on for many years," Hoppe said during the meeting.

However, this is just the start of the process in receiving federal assistance.

"It's tough right now," Anthony said. "Federal funding is difficult." 

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