Missouri's road system is complex and one of the largest in the nation. The thousands of miles of farm-to-market routes in rural areas often are cited as a culprit for the state's stressed road budget and crews.
The Missouri Department of Transportation points out that in most other states, these blacktop roads are maintained by county road crews. However, decades ago, the state made a deal with voters to accept responsibility for the roads in exchange for support of tax issues.
Lettered routes are vital transportation links in rural areas, connecting not only farmers to markets, but students to schools and employees to work. It's simply not feasible to shove the maintenance of these roads onto counties or townships.
Local entities have neither the budget nor equipment to take care of these routes. A transfer of responsibility would only shift costs to the local level and likely decrease road quality and safety.
Missouri must get serious about prioritizing care of its lettered routes. Rural residents will recognize that population patterns have changed in the last 60 years. Some less-traveled paved roads probably need to be downgraded to a different status.
County and state government can work together with citizen input to identify these routes and develop a plan for maintenance. Then, focus can be shifted to priority routes in need of improvements.
The state must also put together a financing plan more sophisticated than "we need more money." The onus is on legislators to sit down and work out a long-range funding solution that all corners of the state can support.
Will it be easy? Obviously not, or it would have been done before.
Despite all our known shortcomings, Missouri's state road system ranked eighth in the nation in the Reason Foundation's Annual Highway Report. The state has covered a lot of ground the last 15 years in upgrading its infrastructure.
For a model on how to go the last mile, we can look to neighboring Kansas, which ranked second in the survey.
We don't have too many roads. We have too many roads that are not being maintained at the proper level. A combination of strategic planning and funding fixes can put lettered routes on the road to recovery.
Copyright St. Joseph News-Press. Distributed by The Associated Press.