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Columbia Missourian

DEAR READER: Weigh in on solutions for Interstate 70

By Tom Warhover
March 23, 2012 | 7:06 p.m. CDT

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Dear Reader,

Columbia’s most important stretch of concrete runs from Cove Fort, Utah to the suburbs of Baltimore, Md.

Interstate 70 is this country’s first interstate, and its first miles of pavement were here in Missouri. The highway’s age is showing. Its present might be described as overused and underfunded. Its future is an open question.

And the options start with our pocketbooks.

You’re an expert on the topic, even if you don’t know it.

Mid-Missouri residents travel I-70 every day. Some of you could name every pothole in the pavement from Columbia to Kingdom City and beyond.

The Missourian, KOMU and KBIA want to tap that knowledge as part of our inaugural efforts with the national Public Insight Network.

The network is a confederation of news organizations and citizens from around the country. It’s run by American Public Media, and many of the participants are public radio stations, but its members include newspapers like The Charlotte Observer and The Washington Post as well as television stations and online only news outlets.

Locally, you might have heard about the Public Insight Network through KBIA radio’s “Harvest Public Media.”

It’s a pretty simple concept. Journalists need sources that stretch well beyond the institutions they report on. Since 2003, the Public Insight Network has been collecting sources with knowledge on just about anything, even when people don’t think of themselves as experts.

A reporter who once worked for me spent his vacations in the art museums of Europe. His knowledge of art history was extensive. No one tapped him for that expertise, though, because he was a business reporter.

Think of the master gardeners in town who are plumbers or professors in their day jobs. You might be a source for an area that represents your paying job, but most of us have outside interests as well.

You want a "for instance"? Check this out: The Missourian’s librarian, Nina Johnson, is also a staff member of the Dark Shadows Festival. The Gothic television series went off the air in 1971, but its fans still gather from across the country each year. Johnny Depp stars in a remake in May; some aficionados are in arms over the potential for misrepresenting the original.

On its website, the Public Insight Network claims 130,000 sources. I don’t expect many of them are in mid-Missouri. Yet. That’s where you come in.

You can join in any time, or you can wait for specific queries as they come up. In this first one, I’m looking for experts on Interstate 70. Fortunately, most of you are.

I’m looking for big brains on economics, demographics, engineering and traffic flow. And for anyone who drives or rides on the interstate.

Please take a few minutes if you can to share your experience.

The future of I-70 impacts us all. There is little consensus about what to do.

Talk of a toll road on I-70 died in Jefferson City when Sen. Mike Kehoe’s bill died in committee last month. The search for solutions to funding expansion and improvements continues, though. Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Sen. Bill Stouffer has said he wants legislators to tour the state for more input.

A little reporting from reputable news organizations might help, especially if it includes assistance from a network of sources.

To learn more about the Missourian's involvement with the Public Insight Network, go to ColumbiaMissourian.com/insight.

Tom