Thursday, July 5, 2012

About 100 attend transportation meeting in Cape Girardeau

Sunday, July 1, 2012
About 100 local business owners and concerned citizens attended a Blue Ribbon Citizens Committee on Transportation meeting on Missouri's transportation needs Friday at the Show Me Center. The event allowed citizens to speak about both their concerns for Missouri's transportation system as well as offer solutions to a Missouri Department of Transportation funding crisis.

Organized by Missouri House Speaker Stephen Tilley, R-Perryville, the committee consists of prominent business owners around the state and is headed by former House speaker Rod Jetton and Senate president pro tem Bill McKenna.

MoDOT director Kevin Keith talked about the substantial funding loss MoDOT has experienced. Keith explained that Missouri transportation needs are financed by fuel taxes, vehicle licensing and sales tax on motor vehicle purchases. Missouri's 17-cent state fuel tax has not changed since 1992, according to Keith, though MoDOT expenses have risen substantially. MoDOT revenue, as a result, has decreased by 2 percent for four years in a row due to more fuel efficient vehicles and people tending to drive less.

MoDOT's budget is below $700 million, about $500 million less than what it has been in recent years, according to a Missouri House of Representative transportation facts document available at the committee meeting. Five years ago, MoDOT identified statewide transportation needs that would require an additional $20 billion, according to the same document. Keith also spoke about the importance of a well-maintained and efficient transportation system to the economy.

Concerned citizens, business owners and government employees voiced their suggestions for road improvements and offered solutions to the low funding situation.

Matt Seiler, assistant district engineer for MoDOT's Southeast district, discussed the importance and high cost of keeping roads in good condition.

"The stretch of I-55 between Scott City and Fruitland needs to be six-lane," Seiler said.

Dan Heil, logistics manager at Nestle-Purina pet care near Bloomfield, Mo., emphasized the importance of public awareness about the lack of transportation funding.

"The General Assembly needs to prioritize highway maintenance. Before trying to pass even a modest fund increase, the public needs to be educated about the problem," Heil said.

Lester Goodin, a farmer in Mississippi County, spoke about the importance of minor roads to agriculture, an important industry to Southeast Missouri's economy.

"My suggestion is that, as a farmer, the diesel trucks that cause the most damage to both secondary and major roads should pay more in fuel taxes," Goodin said.

Goodin argued that an increase in the diesel tax is one of the fairest ways to pay for updates to Missouri's transportation system because diesel vehicles, specifically large trucks, consume the most of what MoDOT provides.

Brittany Holmes, a Bollinger County teenager, expressed her thanks to MoDOT for their timely and thorough update of dangerous roads in her area. Holmes had a friend who was killed on poorly marked and poorly maintained roads in Bollinger County. Holmes wanted to emphasize the importance of proper signage and thoroughly maintained roads to road safety. 

Committee members allowed each speaker five minutes to speak, after which the committee members asked questions of the speakers. Friday morning's committee meeting was the fourth of seven such meetings around Missouri. The committee meets next July 9 in Columbia, Mo., at the ARC City Activity Center. Two other meetings of the committee are scheduled for July 23 in Hannibal, Mo., and Aug. 6 in Lee's Summit, Mo.


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