Columbians want something done about traffic and the condition of city streets.
A survey conducted this spring found that almost half of residents surveyed are dissatisfied with how the city manages traffic flow and congestion, and more than a third are unhappy about how well city streets are maintained. Fixing problems in those two areas should be the city’s highest priority, according to a ranking provided by ETC Institute, the market research firm that carried out the $20,800 survey for the city.
“It’s a pretty obvious course for the city to address transportation issues,” said Chris Tatham, ETC vice president and chief operating officer.
City officials have drawn up a list of possible tax extensions and increases that would pay for transportation and public safety projects. Any new or continued taxes would have to be approved by voters this fall.
“I’d like to see substantial emphasis be on transportation issues this November,” said City Manager Ray Beck. “You want to do the best you can. If you don’t have adequate funding, that’s hard to do.”
Of the 613 Columbia residents surveyed by ETC, 49 percent said they were dissatisfied with traffic flow and 36 percent with street maintenance. Only about 5 percent said they were “very satisfied” with the city’s handling of either issue. The survey has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.
Although cities generally should try to keep dissatisfaction levels below 20 percent, residents in growing communities often say they are unhappy about traffic issues, Tatham said.
“The road network can’t often accommodate all the new vehicles,” he said. “It’s a good problem to have. It suggests more people are moving to the community.”
Improving the flow of traffic and managing congestion came out on top when residents were asked to choose three priorities for the city over the next two years. Nearly three out of four of people surveyed said improving traffic flow should be the city’s top priority. Maintaining city streets ranked second, with 68 percent.
Beck said Columbia’s traffic has worsened in recent years, but the congestion is nothing compared to that in bigger cities.
“If we were in St. Louis, you wouldn’t say we have a traffic problem,” he said. Here, though, expectations are different.
“You want to get from one end of town to the other in a few minutes.”
Beck said part of the problem is that some people do not realize which roads are operated by the city and which by the state. Many of Columbia’s major thoroughfares, such as Providence Road, Stadium Boulevard and College Avenue, are the responsibility of the Missouri Department of Transportation.
The Columbia City Council is considering a $94 million package of new and continuing taxes over the next 10 years to pay for transportation and public safety projects. Combined with existing sources of funding, transportation projects could receive $105 million over the next decade.
Of that money, $71.5 million would go toward 18 street-improvement projects across the city. The remainder would be used for sidewalk improvements, landscaping, traffic safety, rights of way for future street projects, and joint projects with the city and county.
What the council must decide now is how to persuade voters to pay for those projects. A possible ballot initiative being considered involves an extension of the quarter-cent capital-improvement tax, which would net an estimated $50 million over 10 years. Seventy percent of the proceeds from that tax, or $35 million over 10 years, would go toward street projects.
Also, the council is considering asking voters to approve an additional one-eighth-cent sales tax earmarked solely for street improvements, as well as a fivefold increase to the development fee over 10 years.