Highway chief calls for more road money

Thursday, January 29, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 7:30 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 9, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — More money topped the list of recommendations Missouri’s Department of Transportation director presented to a joint session of the General Assembly on Wednesday.

“It is time to make constructive plans for the critical transportation needs of this state,” transportation director Henry Hungerbeeler said in the first State of Transportation address.

“We cannot leave our transportation system in worse shape than we found it and pass our problems on to our children and grandchildren,” he said.

Hungerbeeler resigned in December and will step down June 1.

Safety is the department’s No. 1 objective, Hungerbeeler said.

“Too many people are dying on Missouri’s roads,” he said. “If we lost that many people in airplane crashes, it would be totally unacceptable.” Hungerbeeler cited inadequate funding as the cause for the state’s deteriorating highways and bridges. Transportation funding from state general revenue has been cut 37 percent since 2002.

“Twenty five years ago, 17 percent of Missouri’s state budget went to transportation. Now only 7.5 percent of state spending goes toward vital improvements to our highways, bridges, transit services and other modes of transportation,” Hungerbeeler said.

No specific solution to increase agency funding was presented, but Hungerbeeler suggested ending the diversion of fuel tax funds to areas other than state highways and establishing toll roads as possible approaches. The Missouri Constitution doesn’t currently allow for the use of state highway funds for toll facilities.

Hungerbeeler said tolling would only be used on a few major projects and while it would not solve funding problems, it would help meet highway needs.

But Hungerbeeler’s toll road idea was given little chance for passage by the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. Sen. Jon Dolan, R-Lake St. Louis, said tolling was an innovative idea that would allow for certain improvements that would not otherwise be feasible. But, Dolan said, “reforms” had to be made before moving forward.

“I can’t see going to the people for revenue this year before I get the rest of the reforms myself and my colleagues are committed to,” Dolan said. Hungerbeeler also asked for legislation that would prohibit open containers of alcohol in vehicles and backed a proposed primary seat belt law. It would allow law enforcement officers to pull motorists over and ticket them solely for not wearing a seat belt.

Hungerbeeler also called for the Highways and Transportation Commission to be left in its current form. He said it has “served the people of Missouri well for over 80 years by limiting political influence and parochialism in transportation decision-making.”

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