COLUMBIA — Community members said at a forum Tuesday that Missouri Department of Transportation money should be used for maintenance on the state's roads, highway safety and public transit, among other things.
Several dozen people attended the department's first public forum at the Reynolds Alumni Center, meant to gauge Missourians' transportation priorities. It was the first of 16 MoDOT will hold across the state.
“I think it was a start of an educational process for folks to learn how complicated transportation funding is and balancing the funding to all the needs we have in the state,” said Ed Siegmund, director of the Mid-Missouri Regional Planning Commission.
The state's current transportation budget is $1.4 billion, officials said. But organizers asked participants, who were to prioritize transportation projects, to consider a hypothetical $2 billion budget, which would take into account $600 million in desired additional funding.
Multiple audience members said it would be important to have the additional funding.
“I think at this time the $1.4 billion is probably the realistic scenario because our highway, our transportation infrastructure, hasn’t reached a critical problem stage," Siegmund said. He said he doesn't know whether getting $2 billion worth of funding is a possibility.
The Blue Ribbon Citizens Committee on Missouri's Transportation Needs, a 22-member panel put together by former Speaker of the House Steven Tilley, held seven different meetings statewide last year to get people's opinions on transportation projects and priorities.
One of the members of the Blue Ribbon Citizens Committee, Joe DeLong, president of the steel fabrication company Delong's, Inc., said the panel had also asked community members how they would be willing to fund different transportation projects with measures such as sales taxes, fees or highway tolls. DeLong, who also attended Tuesday's forum, said he thinks the new bill proposed be Sen.Mike Kehoe, which would raise the state sales and use tax by one percent for ten years, would be the best way to fund the additional $600 million for MoDOT.
To implement the priorities outlined by a report from the committee, MoDOT would need between $600 million and $1 billion in additional funding, according to District Engineer Dave Silvester.
MoDOT contracted with Fleishman-Hillard, a public relations firm, to help run the forum, the first of its kind, and get feedback from attendees, Silvester said.
These forums, like the first one held in Columbia, will help the department form a long-range plan regarding transportation, he said. Silvester said the purpose of these panels is to help the public better understand the state's transportation system, including its less than desirable financial situation.
Silvester said the department has endured an increase in costs for item such as concrete, asphalt and steel.