By DOUG WILSON
Herald-Whig Senior Writer
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Transportation officials said what they learned from 17 public input sessions and mobile tours to 232 communities over the last several months can be summed up with just three words: "Missourians want more."
Missouri Department of Transportation Director Dave Nichols told members of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission on Thursday about thousands of projects that Missouri residents want. Those public requests were made through the Missouri On the Move program, which involved a seven-month schedule of town hall-style meetings and mobile tours that went into every county in the state, as well as ideas submitted on a website.
"We received more than 12,000 project suggestions from the public," Nichols said. "It's clear that what Missourians want from their transportation system far exceeds the $17 billion we forecast will be available for transportation over the next 20 years."
Many of those projects have been included in a draft of the state's long-range transportation plan, with the recognition that they can only be tackled if funding is increased from current levels.
MoDOT, which launched a major construction campaign several years ago, is experiencing a funding crisis.
Amendment 3, approved by voters in 2004, boosted annual funding for MoDOT by ending years of diversions from the transportation fund and adding other revenue. State law required Amendment 3 dollars to be used for bonding, which allowed MoDOT to complete several highway upgrades and add safety features.
Bonding boosted MoDOT funding to an average of $1.2 billion a year from 2006 to 2011. Now that the bonds have been issued, MoDOT's annual budget has fallen to less than $700 million. Projections indicate that by 2019, the funding could fall to $425 million a year.
"About 70 percent of our revenue comes from fuel taxes, license fees and sales tax on motor vehicles, and by law can only be spent on roads and bridges," Nichols said. "The fuel tax has served us well for many years, but it is now a diminishing revenue stream. Cars are more fuel-efficient, and people are driving less."
Fuel taxes have not changed in 20 years. The price of concrete, asphalt and steel have tripled in that time, decreasing MoDOT's purchasing power and making it difficult to do business.
MoDOT has reacted to its funding crisis by cutting 1,200 agency positions, closing buildings, and selling equipment and real estate.
"We've taken extreme efforts to put every possible dollar into the system," Nichols said. "But the bottom line is that we cannot cut ourselves to a better transportation system."
Commission Chairman Joe Carmichael complimented Nichols and the MoDOT staff for going to such lengths to learn what Missourians want from their transportation system.
"But in our current situation, in just a few years, we'll have a hard time just maintaining the system of roads and bridges that we have, much less do anything to address these other goal areas," Carmichael said. "It's clear that an investment in transportation is going to be needed, or tough choices will need to be made."
It takes $600 million a year just to maintain the state's transportation system. Under a funding scenario suggested by attendees at MoDOT listening sessions, it would take $1.4 billion a year to cover investments in new projects that would boost economic growth, improve safety and help fund a variety of transportation platforms.
Northeast Missouri residents have compiled a list of transportation priorities.
º The proposed Hannibal expressway would take through-traffic outside of the community and eliminate stoplights along the Avenue of the Saints.
º Champ Clark Bridge is an 84-year-old structure over the Mississippi River at Louisiana that needs to be replaced.
º U.S. 54 needs to be upgraded from two-lane status between Mexico and Louisiana.
º U.S. 63 north of Kirksville has long been pursued as a four-lane highway to complete the Corridor of the Capitols between Jefferson City and Des Moines, Iowa.
º A U.S. 63 bypass at Macon is needed.
º Lane upgrades on Mo. 19, between New London and U.S. 54.
º Construction of eight miles of four-lane highway from Running Fox School at Wayland to the Des Moines River.
Editor's Note: Some figures in this story that were originally posted have been corrected.