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Sen. Bond Seeks $200M More for Highways in MO

Tue August 19, 2003 - Midwest Edition
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CLAYTON, MO (AP) While sitting in traffic on Interstate 70 earlier this week, Sen. Kit Bond got a firsthand reminder why he’s pursuing more highway funding for the state.

Bond was held up for 40 minutes August 5 behind an accident on Interstate 70 while he was driving from St. Louis to Mexico, MO. On Wednesday, Bond gave top aide Jason Van Eaton directions to get around another I-70 accident that stalled Van Eaton for 30 minutes and delayed Bond’s arrival at a transportation forum in St. Louis.

“I don’t believe I’ve traveled round-trip on I-70 many times in the last several months without being caught in a wreck or seeing a wreck in the other lanes,” Bond said at Clayton High School after meeting with St. Louis area civic and political leaders.

The Republican senator said he hopes to secure another $200 million per year for Missouri’s roads and highways in the next federal highway bill.

“The highway situation is going to continue to get worse,” Bond said. “More people will get killed on the highways where they’re overcrowded.”

Bond said he hoped to push the bill immediately after Congress reconvenes Sept. 2. Bond chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Transportation Subcommittee, the panel that writes the federal highway bill. Once his committee and others work out the bill’s details, both houses of Congress and the president must approve it.

If lawmakers do not pass a new highway bill by the end of September, they would likely vote to extend the current bill for a year.

“We hope we can pass it,” Bond said of the new highway bill. “Some people have talked about a one-year extension. That’s a disaster for highway construction because you can’t make multiyear commitments on a one-year extension.”

Under the current highway bill, Missouri receives approximately $700 million annually, said Ernie Blazar, Bond’s spokesman. Missouri received a bump of about $200 million dollars per year under the last highway bill, passed in 1998.

Ed Hassinger, a St. Louis district engineer for the Missouri Department of Transportation, said Bond told forum attendees in a closed session that Missouri cannot depend entirely on the federal government to pay for transportation needs.

Hassinger said attendees also discussed the proposed Mississippi River bridge in St. Louis as well as projects on U.S. 36, U.S. 61 and Interstate 70. Hassinger said further funding would be needed if the state wants to pursue any major projects.

“We barely can keep things together at the funding levels that we’ve got,” Hassinger said of the situation in St. Louis.

Hassinger said other MoDOT districts are having similar difficulties.

Bond said he will only support a bill “that makes a large and positive difference for Missouri. After that, once the additional money is on the table, it will be up to the highway commission, MoDOT and regional planning agencies to decide how to spend that money.”

A new Mississippi River bridge in St. Louis, estimated to cost more than $1 billion, is this region’s highest priority, Bond said. He said it would be up to the state to decide how funding from the upcoming highway bill is spent.

Hassinger said the bridge was “not only a St. Louis issue.” Hassinger said the bridge would have far-reaching impact because Interstate 70 is a major regional and national corridor.

Bond warned that despite the increased funding, some projects in Missouri will simply have to wait. The state’s roads, he said, rank third-worst in the nation, while bridges were ranked second-worst.

“There simply will not be enough money to fund fully every important transportation project in Missouri,” Bond said.

Later, at a stop in Jefferson City, Bond touted the Senate’s passage last week of an energy bill that he said would aid Missouri’s soybean and corn industries because it promotes ethanol and biodiesel fuel. Ethanol is a product of corn and biodiesel is produced from soybeans.

Senate and House negotiators still have to work out a final version of the bill, but Bond said he is confident that the ethanol and biodiesel provisions will remain in the legislation.