Amendment paves way for $400 million highways upgrade

Thursday, November 11, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:25 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A portion of tax money set aside for road work in the newly approved Amendment 3 might pay for improvements to some of Columbia's busiest highways.

Those improvements are part of a plan announced Wednesday by the Missouri Department of Transportation to upgrade 2,200 miles of state roads by December 2007.

The Smooth Roads Initiative would use $400 million of the funding allocated by Amendment 3, which directs money collected from highway-related taxes to highway improvements for Missouri roads and to pay for new projects and programs.

Roger Schwartze, a District 5 highway engineer who oversees highway programs in central Missouri, said part of the money would pay for upgrades to Interstate 70 and U.S. 63.

“It will cover I-70 all the way from Kansas City to St. Louis and Route 63 from northern Boone County all the way south to Jeff City,” Schwartze said. “Basically, the roads that have been selected are all the heavily-traveled MoDOT roads in Columbia.”

Schwartze said the initiative would include new rumble strips, such as those on U.S. 63 on the way to Ashland designed to prevent drivers who fall asleep from rolling off the shoulder of the road.

The plan also includes upgrading to pavement, brightening stripes and signs, painting reflective lane markings and installing improved shoulders and safer guardrails.

“We’re going to show that we’re going to go out and fix the roads just as (voters) supported in Amendment 3,” Schwartze said. “The idea is that the roads will look good, will be smooth and will be improved.”

The state wants to use money from the Smooth Roads Initiative to improve roads that handle about 60 percent of Missouri traffic.

The initiative is the first of three projects that would use money newly allocated under the passage of Amendment 3. The two remaining phases will accelerate existing projects and allow the transportation department to identify new major plans.State budget officials said the amendment will produce about $73 million for road improvements next year and $187 million a year when fully phased in, according to the Associated Press.

Jeff Briggs, spokesman for the department, estimated $1.3 to $1,4 million would be needed to complete all three projects.“Obviously, Amendment 3 isn’t going to generate this,” said Briggs. “The rest will be from bonds issued. That way we’ll be able to get projects completed or almost completed in the next few years.”

The department plans to present the initiative to the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission in December. If the commission approves the initiative, the road improvements are scheduled to begin in the summer of 2005.

Schwartze said the plan should take three years to finish.

If the plan is approved, representatives from the department will then evaluate individual Missouri roads to determine what specific improvements are needed.

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