Financial woes will strain state’s roads and bridges, MoDOT warns

Missouri drivers could experience a bumpier ride in the next few years if the Missouri Department of Transportation adopts a proposed plan for road and bridge construction.

MoDOT is expecting to face insufficient funds for construction and maintenance in the few years ahead. The transportation department reported its annual construction budget dropped from $1.3 billion in 2009 to around $700 million in 2015, and funding is expected to fall to around to $325 million in 2017, its lowest level in more than 20 years. The projected budget falls short of the $485 million MoDOT says it needs to maintain statewide roads and bridges.

Tatiana Darie/ Missouri Business Alert
Tatiana Darie/ Missouri Business Alert

Under the “Missouri’s 325 System”, MoDOT will focus its shrinking resources on Missouri’s major roads or highways that connect cities across the state. That’s approximately 8,000 miles of the state’s 34,000-mile highway system. The department said it plans to use the money to keep the primary roads and bridges in a good condition, but no capital improvements, such as replacements or road widening, will be possible.

“We are left to make tough choices just like they do in the emergency room. This will be a historic moment for this department as we really have to decide where we are going to focus our resources,” said Steve Miller, chairman of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission. “What that means is that we will not be able to maintain the same service as we do today on roads that are primarily serving local traffic, not only in our rural areas, but also in our urban areas.”

The remaining miles of roads and bridges will make up the state’s supplementary system and will receive only limited routine maintenance.

“We won’t be doing resurfacing projects, bridge replacement projects on these supplemental roads,”  MoDOT Director Dave Nichols said. “We will be doing maintenance work, patching potholes, plowing the snow, taking care of the roads, striping the roads, we’ll take care of the traffic signals, but to do a capital improvement projects to upgrade the system, we will not have the revenue to do that.”

The supplemental roads include significant urban routes such as Lindbergh Boulevard in St. Louis, Blue Parkway in Kansas City, Stadium Boulevard in Columbia, Route 179 and Missouri Boulevard in Jefferson City and others. MoDOT said it expects roads and bridges to deteriorate.

“Ultimately,” Nichols said, “bridges will be closed.”

The new focus on primary roads differs from MoDOT’s current approach, which is focused on the state’s major and minor roads that make up 20 percent of the Missouri’s highway system and carry 80 percent of the traffic. The proposed plan calls for every county to have at least one highway designated as a primary road.

MoDOT spokesperson Holly Dentner said the decline is a result of an accumulation of factors over time. New, fuel-efficient cars require less gas, and that translates into less tax revenues and less federal funding for the department. MoDOT gets funds from federal and state government sources, but its primary funding comes from fuel taxes. The declining  revenue will not be able to match the federal funds in 2017, which means the funds will be lost to other states.

“This is the type of system you get for $325 million, and we just don’t want any surprises to be out there,” Miller said. “There will be businesses affected, there will be individuals. If they don’t like it, they either learn to live with it or they increase the investment on transportation.”

MoDOT is planning to discuss the plan with local officials before taking any action on the proposal.

Voters rejected Amendment 7 on Missouri’s August ballot, which would have instituted a sales tax hike to raise money for than 800 transportation projects across the state.

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