Highway projects are divided into three main categories for this competition: Ahead of Schedule, Under Budget, and Best Use of Innovation. These categories are then divided by the size of the project—a small project is under $25 million; a medium project is $25 million to $199 million; a large project is $200 million plus. MoDot’s two winning entries were the Safe and Sound Bridge Improvement Project and the Route 5 Shared Four-Lane Highway Project.
The Safe and Sound Project won the award in the Ahead of Schedule large project category. This project was a five-year $685 million endeavor to replace or repair and restore 802 of Missouri’s bridges. These are bridges that were in poor condition and either needed repaired or replaced. Nearly 250 of the bridges were restoration projects, while there were 554 bridges that were completely replaced.
The bridge program began in September of 2008 with the goal of completion by the end of 2014. This project was completed ahead of schedule, taking only 3½ years to complete, thus finishing 1½ years ahead of schedule. As a result, Missourians across the state are driving on better and safer bridges, something that has not escaped the notice of our state’s drivers. Public surveys show that MoDot is viewed very positively by our state’s citizens and that they have an impressive approval rating of over 80%.
The Shared Four-Lane Highway Project is on Route 5 between Lebanon and Camdenton. This is a 20-mile section of road and a $34 million project that was completed in the summer of 2011. It won the Innovation Highway Design Award (medium category) for providing alternating passing lanes. As many of you know, trying to pass on a regular two-lane highway can be frustrating and even dangerous at times. To help make Missouri highways safer and reduce injuries and fatalities was the idea behind MoDot’s design for this project. A Shared Four-Lane consists of an additional lane added to one side of a conventional two-lane highway in order to provide motorists an opportunity to pass without having to find an open area in the oncoming traffic.
The winning Route 5 project is included in the stretch I travel going to and coming from Jefferson City, so I have firsthand experience with this highway and can attest to the success of the project. It was a greatly needed improvement to what was formerly a dangerous and outdated section of highway, but improvements of this type are expensive.
Today the Missouri General Assembly, along with the Missouri Department of Transportation, is working to find a solution to our state’s transportation funding crisis. Missouri has 32,000 miles of roads to maintain, and we rank 47th out of the 50 states in transportation funding. Two ideas for increasing road revenue are fuel tax increases and toll roads. However, these ideas are very unpopular with both the public and with Missouri’s General Assembly.
One of the main funding sources for our state roads comes from existing fuel tax, but it appears that tax will not be able to keep up with future funding needs for Missouri highways. While fuel economy is good for consumers and the environment, it means that the amount of fuel tax collected is reduced; therefore, another funding source needs to be found. This is one of the reasons this past session, Senate Joint Resolution 16, the Missouri Transportation Funding Bill, was introduced. SJR 16 was a legislative referendum, which means it would have gone to a vote of the people in the 2014 general election. Voters would have had the opportunity to decide whether to raise Missouri sales tax by one cent in order to maintain and fund road projects in our state, including the I-70 project.
Originally, SJR 16 passed the Senate and came to the House. The House made two very minor changes in the bill, passed it, and returned it to the Senate. At that time, several of the senators then decided to filibuster the bill, causing it to die in the Senate in the last week of session. A vast majority of the House and Senate was greatly disappointed that a few senators chose to filibuster a proposal that would have allowed the people of the state to make the decision concerning funding for their state roads.
It is difficult for the general public to realize how much money it takes to maintain all the 32,000 miles of roads and numerous bridges across our state. Though SJR 16 could have been one option for Missouri, its fate is uncertain and we must now consider other options. Nevertheless, one thing is certain, in the near future it is imperative we come up with a plan in order to continue the funding of road maintenance and new highway building projects across our state.