Voters' foresight in expanding U.S. 36 pays off

Posted: Dec. 3, 2017 12:55 am

THE development of U.S. 36 into a four-lane highway across Missouri that now carries two national corridors and connects to a third continues to fuel economic growth and improve traffic safety in the more than seven years since the final 52-mile segment between Hannibal and Macon was completed.

The Herald-Whig reported last week that sales tax collections in Marion and Macon counties climbed by more than 50 percent between 2007 and 2016 -- exceeding statewide growth by nearly 8 percent. That was due in large part to expansions and new business construction along the national corridor.

Moreover, Missouri Department of Transportation officials report that traffic along U.S. 36 from Hannibal to Macon has risen by 46 percent since 2006, when 52 miles of two-lane roads were still in use. It has, as expected, become a favored route for many truckers and travelers who want to avoid the congestion and deterioration of Interstate 70.

Meanwhile, even with increased traffic, the number of vehicle crashes has declined dramatically with the elimination of the dangerous two-lane highway.

Those statistics validate the wisdom and foresight of voters in Marion, Monroe, Shelby and Macon counties who responded to and supported the major regional promotional campaign to fund the necessary local share of making U.S. 36 four lanes from Hannibal to Macon.

Residents in those four rural Missouri counties, which two-lane U.S. 36 crossed, recognized the importance of the highway upgrade by voting to approve Proposition 36B by a 2-to-1 margin in August 2005. The measure put in place a half-cent sales tax for up to 15 years to accelerate construction.

While voters agreed to pay half the costs for the project initially estimated at $100 million, the Missouri Department of Transportation kept its promise to finish U.S. 36 on time by 2010 and completed the project significantly under budget. As a result, the local share was repaid and the sales tax expired three-and-half years early last July 1.

Timing, as is often the case, played a critical role.

MoDOT planners at one time predicted that construction of a four-lane U.S. 36 might not be completed until 2025, and even that timeline was not guaranteed. But in 2005, Missouri had funds available after the statewide Amendment 3 vote a year earlier and then-MoDOT Director Pete Rahn was a key supporter of the cost-share concept.

"If we had waited even one more year, the state highway money might not have been there, and we'd still probably be driving on a two-lane road," Larry Craig, executive director of the U.S. 36-Interstate 72 Corridor Transportation Development District, told The Herald-Whig.

As a result, the four-lane U.S. 36 completed the long-envisioned Chicago-Kansas City Expressway and the I-72/U.S. 36 corridor from Indianapolis to Kansas City, and connects them at Hannibal with the Avenue of the Saints from St. Louis to St. Paul, Minn.

These vital transportation networks -- now in place after being pursued for decades by regional community leaders and public officials in Missouri, Illinois and Iowa -- drive economic development, ensure safer travel and improve quality of life throughout the region.

Clearly, the perseverance of community leaders and the game-changing decision by residents of Northeast Missouri to make this investment is paying huge dividends, and will continue to play an important role in the region's growth for generations to come.