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Reduced Road Maintenance Proposed for Missouri Roads

A looming budget shortfall is forcing some hard choices in the state.

Wed January 28, 2015 - Midwest Edition

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) Only one-quarter of Missouri’s highways would be fully maintained under a Missouri Department of Transportation proposal outlined Jan. 14 as a way to deal with an impending budget shortfall.

By 2017, the department expects to have $325 million available annually for construction and maintenance, which is significantly short of the $485 million needed to fully maintain Missouri’s 34,000 miles of roads, transportation director Dave Nichols said.

The department is proposing to fully maintain 8,000 miles of primary state roads, which establishes a network of interstates, U.S. and state highways. Every county has at least one primary route under the plan.

The rest of the roads, including some well-traveled roads in metropolitan areas, are seen as primarily used for local travel and would receive minimal maintenance. Nichols made clear the effects of that approach, telling the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission, “Many of those roads are going to deteriorate.’’

Missouri voters in August rejected a bid to increase the state’s sales tax by three-quarters of a cent, which would have provided $540 million annually for 10 years for transportation. No concrete funding alternative has emerged since, said Rep. Glen Kolkmeyer, R-Odessa, who chairs the House Transportation Committee.

“This list is going to open a lot of eyes in Missouri,’’ Kolkmeyer said. “MoDOT is in trouble.’’

The identified roads will be maintained in good condition, with pavement resurfacing projects and bridge repairs. About 73 percent of miles driven in the state take place on the primary roads.

Other roads identified as supplementary routes used in local travel will receive minimal maintenance, Nichols said, some of which serve as major arteries in the state’s largest cities, including Lindbergh Boulevard and Olive Street in St. Louis and Blue Parkway and Bruce Watkins Drive in Kansas City.

The supplementary routes will see potholes patched, roads striped, snow plowed and traffic lights repaired, but there will be no major repairs or resurfacing, according to the stripped-down plan. Nichols also said bridges along those routes would eventually close if they became unsafe.

The inclusion of some routes over others will likely spark debate, commission chairman Stephen Miller acknowledged, but added that funding limits mean shared pain across the state.

“The reality is we have to live within $325 million,’’ Miller said. “If they don’t like it, they learn to live with it or they find more money for transportation.’’

Miller said a piecemeal approach with a variety of revenue sources would have to be considered without the sales tax increase. Gov. Jay Nixon last month raised the potential for tolls on Interstate 70 to fund improvements, and proposals to tie the gas tax to inflation and increase vehicle registration fees also have been discussed.

The decreased revenues available for construction are a result of declining fuel tax revenues as cars become more fuel-efficient, less purchasing power due to inflation, an increase in the cost of construction materials and debt servicing needed to pay off bonds approved in 2004, Nichols said.

Missouri also is at risk of losing some federal transportation dollars, as the state is required to contribute $1 for every $4 from the federal government. In 2017, the department will lose $167 million in federal money, according to budget projections.

The commission is expected to consider the DOT’s plan further next month.

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