Sunday, June 3, 2012

Committee Weighing MODOT Options

The following story is taken from the Daily Dunklin Democrat and can be found in its original format here:

Committee Weighing MODOT Options

Sunday, June 3, 2012
A committee of Missourians, co-chaired by Dexter City Administrator Mark Stidham, is travelling the state hoping to answer questions for MoDOT regarding necessary infrastructure improvements and repairs.
(Photo by Corey Noles/SEMO News Service)
How important are good roads to you?

This is one of several questions the Blue Ribbon Citizen's Committee on Missouri's Transportation Needs is asking Missourians to think about.

Dexter's City Administrator Mark Stidham co-chairs the committee alongside Rod Jetton and Bill McKenna as well as 18 others from across the state.  The committee began meeting in April when they learned about the challenges the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) faces in years to come.

"Basically, by 2015, the Federal Highway Commission and the Missouri Department of Transportation will be out of money," Stidham said. "The surplus they have operated on through the recession is almost gone." MoDOT's funding is based primarily on income from the state fuel tax. Since 1992, MoDOT has received 17-cents per gallon of gasoline or diesel fuel sold. That revenue is the same whether gas is at two dollars or four dollars per-gallon. This money comes to MoDOT through the Highway Trust Fund, which has helped finance bridge and highway projects since 1956.

Over the 20 years since, the cost of almost everything has risen dramatically. Asphalt has increased approximately 175 percent. Concrete has increased almost 200 percent per cubic yard.

At the same time, the amount of money coming in to MoDOT has actually decreased due to more fuel efficient vehicles and people being more conscientious due to the price of fuel.

According to MoDOT figures, Missouri ranks seventh of the 50 states in terms of the amount of highway in miles. The state ranks seventh from the bottom in terms of fuel tax to fund highway maintenance and expansion.

What does this mean to the committee?

The committee is looking at several different things.

First, they are listening to groups and individuals share the needs for the roads in their region. These range widely from interstate expansion to dangerous curves to river port work.

All of these things fall under MoDOT's jurisdiction, but as the money decreases, so is the output.

Second, the committee is tasked with finding the solution to MoDOT's financial issues. Big projects take money. For instance, Stidham explained MoDOT plans to make I-70 three lanes across Missouri to alleviate congestion issues.

Another area of concern is I-44 from St. Louis to Springfield. Simply put, road work is expensive.

Does this mean more taxes?

It's possible, but they believe there are other options.

The most obvious option is to change the way the fuel tax is calculated. Instead of having it calculated by the gallon, have the tax be on the dollar amount.

This method, Stidham said, would allow for inflation to occur while keeping MoDOT functional.
"Could you live on what you did in 1992?" he asked. "That's basically what MoDOT is doing. Utiliities have gone up. Supplies and fuel have gone up and they're stuck at the same income."

There are several things the committee could recommend to the governor and legislature.

Another option is an increase in licensing fees when purchasing a new car.

A third option is the possibility of toll roads in some places. Other states have had success with this method, but there is some reluctance to bring the practice to Missouri.

"Missouri is the crossroads of the nation," Stidham said. "You can be anywhere in the country in two or three days from Missouri. Our highways are crucial to our economy and business not just within the state, but right here in Dexter."

After the board's scheduled seven public meetings, they will meet among themselves to discuss and determine what their recommendation will be.

"We really don't know what we'll recommend yet," Stidham said, noting that the group is only having its second meeting today, Friday, June 1.

On Friday, June 29, 2012, the group will have its only Southeast Missouri meeting. It will take place at the Show-Me Center in Cape Girardeau at 10 a.m.

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