Missouri’s transportation director delivers an upbeat report to state lawmakers, tempered by a question.
State Transportation Director Pete Rahn tells the Joint Legislative Committee on Transportation Missouri’s highway system has been upgraded, state highway deaths have fallen sharply and public opinion of MoDOT has improved.
“I’m very pleased to say that there is a lot of progress for us to be talking about,” Rahn tells lawmakers gathered at the Capitol for his annual transportation report. “We have come a long way. But the question is where are we going to go from here?”
MoDOT has awarded a total of $1.5 billion in construction projects this fiscal year, actually generating $1.79 billion in economic activity. Missouri has leveraged bonds issued after voters approved Amendment Three in November of 2004 and has used federal economic stimulus money to pay for road and bridge repair.
The improvements have been noticed. Truckers once rated Missouri roads near the bottom among the states. Now, in an industry publication, they rank Missouri’s highway system near the top. Public opinion of MoDOT itself has risen sharply as construction has filled potholes, replaced aging bridges and built new highways.
The funding sources, though, are running dry. Federal stimulus money will soon be exhausted. The state has done all it can with the Amendment Three funds, transportation dollars once diverted from highway construction, now re-directed back to MoDOT. Nothing has been approved to replace them, dropping highway revenue to $421 million. Rahn says that’s not enough money to maintain the system now built.
Rahn likes what he sees now, but not was lies ahead.
“Our focus, as we move forward, will be to look at the number one issue, however, before transportation in this state of Missouri and that is funding for the continued improvement of our system,” Rahn says.
He doesn’t make any suggestions to lawmakers, insisting his job is to give lawmakers information from which to make decisions.
The stakes go well beyond just roads and bridges. Currently, road construction generates as many as 22,340 jobs and that doesn’t include the estimate 9,739 jobs created from the 123 projects awarded with $357 million in federal economic stimulus funds. Rahn projects that once Missouri loses both streams of funding, the highway construction jobs created in Missouri will plummet to 6,844 a year.