Voters to decide on city street projects

Propositions 4, 5 and 6 would fund projects such as road and sidewalk construction.
Friday, October 28, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:28 p.m. CDT, Friday, June 27, 2008

The folks who work in the factories and businesses that line Lemone Industrial Boulevard are all too familiar with the daily frustration of idling bumper-to-bumper as they try to get home.

The boulevard, a hilly lane that runs east of U.S. Highway 63, is one of several streets in the city with the kind of daily gridlock that residents in a recent survey identified as their biggest complaint about Columbia.

To answer those complaints, the Columbia City Council included a trio of propositions on the Nov. 8 ballot. If approved, the proceeds would go toward 18 major street projects, and the city would foot the combined cost of $79 million in the next 10 years.

Proposition 4 would extend an existing quarter-cent capital improvements sales taxes for seven years and generate an estimated $35 million for streets and sidewalks. Its companion, Proposition 5, would create an additional one-eighth-cent sales tax that would steer another $25 million toward transportation needs in the next 10 years.

Finally, Proposition 6 would authorize a gradual increase in the city’s charge on new development — from 10 cents per square foot of new construction to 50 cents per square foot — that would bring in roughly $19 million for arterial and collector streets in the next decade.

Proceeds from those propositions would be added to existing revenue sources and fund balances to create a total budget of $105 million for new road and sidewalk construction, to maintain the 352 miles of streets for which the city is already responsible and to pay for other transportation-related projects.

Although city officials said they hope the 18 street projects, nearly all of them on the fringes of the city, will address traffic trouble spots and get ahead of anticipated development, others said they think their plan is inadequate and puts an unfair burden on taxpayers. Members of Timely and Responsible Road Infrastructure Financing, or TARRIF, said the list ignores deficiencies closer to the center of town and calls for projects that will only compound urban sprawl.

The projects

Constant street construction is essential to maintaining and expanding the infrastructure of a growing city, but it comes with a hefty price tag. The city’s list of 10-year priority street needs accounts for roughly 70 percent of its projected $105 million city budget for transportation projects between now and 2015.

Although the city hasn’t indicated precisely when projects on its priority list would be done, it has developed a strong track record for following through with previous promises. In similar capital improvement plans funded by sales taxes in 1991, 1995 and 1999, the city completed every project it promised. Most recently, the capital improvement tax was renewed in 1999 to pay for the Columbia Activity and Recreation Center.

This time, the city plans to pour most of its resources into streets. Identified projects ring the fringe of the city, where officials said development drives a need for bigger and better roads.

“We are trying to get out in front of it a little bit,” Public Works Director John Glascock said.

The street projects fall into three primary categories: increasing capacity of existing streets, building new streets and upgrading or creating intersections and major interchanges.

A three-part plan calling for major improvements to Scott Boulevard on the west side is one of the more expensive and ambitious projects on the list, with an estimated total cost of $14.6 million. In response to new and planned development, the city would upgrade Scott Boulevard between Rollins Road and Route KK to handle increasing traffic, to improve safety and to provide new connections in the city’s southwest sector. The improvements would include two- and four-lane grading, drainage work, new traffic lights and another bridge over Hinkson Creek.

Across town on Lemone Industrial Boulevard, hundreds of employees leaving work have only one way out: a southern exit that dumps them onto New Haven Road just east of U.S. Highway 63. If voters approve Propositions 4, 5 and 6, the city would spend $8.9 million to extend Lemone Industrial to the north, across Grindstone Creek, where it would hook up with Stadium Boulevard and provide another outlet. It’s a project city leaders have discussed for nearly two decades but have not found the resources to complete.

TARRIF member Ben Londeree said the city should have required two exits when they approved the plan 20 years ago.

A bit farther south, development of the 489-acre Philips tract, annexed last year by the city, is driving the need for major street work. The city’s list includes a $2 million upgrade to Bearfield Road on the development’s west side as well as an improvement of Gans Road that will include a new interchange at U.S. Highway 63. That project will cost the city roughly $4.5 million but will also rely on significant contributions from the developer, the state and the federal government.

City officials said they think their list is right for Columbia and in the long run will improve traffic flow.

“We are looking at the need today and the need 20 years from now,” Glascock said.

TARRIF counters

TARRIF members encourage voters to approve Proposition 6 as a step in the right direction, however members said they hope voters reject Propositions 4 and 5. The members said they think this will force city leaders to rethink the city’s road strategies and to take the time to develop a more comprehensive plan for addressing both short- and long-term needs.

“The bottom line is there’s a philosophical difference, and voters will have to decide which one they agree with,” TARRIF member Wilson-Kleekamp said.

TARRIF members said they think city officials allow developers to dictate street-planning decisions, then rely on taxpayers to foot the bulk of the bill. Projects on the city’s list, the group argues, are intended to either encourage or serve development.

“Our concern is whether or not the taxpayers should be responsible for providing access for a development,” said Ben Londeree, a TARRIF member who also served on Mayor Darwin Hindman’s Transportation Finance Committee. “Taxpayers should pay for existing deficiencies.”

Londeree cited an “existing conditions” report prepared for the committee by consultants Stinson, Morris and Hecker. It showed a growth rate of 2 percent would create roughly 2,100 additional “peak-flow” vehicle trips per year. That, the consultants said, would require spending about $14 million per year to build four miles of new four-lane arterial streets.

TARRIF members also noted that the consultants cited a need for nearly $60 million worth of street projects to address existing deficiencies in the next 10 years.

“Most of the $60 million (is) from arterial and collector roads that have been annexed into the city and don’t meet city street standards,” Londeree said.

He argued that the city compounds those deficiencies by relying on periodic sales-tax renewals to fund street projects and failing to make development pay its own way.

“I would like to see the city come up with a more comprehensive, pay-as-you go plan,” Londeree said.

City Manager Ray Beck dismissed TARIFF’s criticism, saying its approach is largely theoretical.

“It’s kinda like a textbook approach,” he said, “but those out in the field know it doesn’t work that way.”

Glascock conceded the city’s proposal isn’t perfect, but said planners are trying to strike a balance.

“We need to get started,” Glascock said. “This won’t cure all of our traffic problems, but it’s a good start, something we feel the citizens can afford.”

Missourian reporter Matt Graham contributed to this report.

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