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Springfield Leaders, Citizens Offer Insight on MoDOT Projects

MoDOT Listening Session
A group discusses transportation issues inside the Springfield-Branson National Airport conference room Thursday/Credit: Scott Harvey

A list of priorities is on its way to Jefferson City where the Missouri Department of Transportation will determine what will make up their long-range plan. This after a MoDOT listening session Thursday in Springfield, one of several conducted across the state. KSMU’s Scott Harvey was in attendance and has this report.

Individuals representing more than 45 local businesses and organizations took part in the brainstorming event.  

Becky Baltz is the district engineer with MoDOT’s Southwest District, which makes up 21 counties and is responsible for 6,500 miles of road. She says input from local officials is important because they can see the issues from a different perspective.

“They’re also very involved with the economic development aspect of transportation and how those two fit together so give us some good input and good insight on those items,” Baltz says. 

Recently completed projects in southwest Missouri include the 60/65 interchange in Springfield, as well as multiple diverging diamond intersections to help the flow of traffic, and the designation of Highway 71 as Interstate 49.

“I think all of you know in this room it’s important to have a safe and strong transportation system but the reality of it is we are not keeping up with the need,” Baltz said.

About 67 percent of MoDOT’s budget accounts for federal and state fuel tax revenue, which can only go toward road and bridge work. Projects for other modes of transportation generally have to go through the Missouri legislature. And Baltz says that over the last 20 years, prices for things like concrete have gone up 200 percent, and steel is double what it was then.

Jeff Glenn of GlennView Strategies helped facilitate Thursday’s event. The individuals on hand were broken into several groups and asked to consider transportation priorities from a couple different angles: one based on MoDOT’s current funding levels of roughly $1.4 billion, and the other based on an additional $600,000 in funding, should it come available. But Glenn notes there’s roughly $4 billion in transportation needs identified by state officials and citizens.

“One thing to understand is it’s going to be about trade-offs. As you go through the afternoon and evening, you’ll quickly learn that we do not have nor will we ever have enough funding to do everything that needs to be done,” Glenn said.

At $600 million a year, highway maintenance in Missouri accounts for 42 percent of the department’s current budget, while highway upgrades make up about 27 percent. City and county roads also accounts for roughly a quarter of the budget, while only about five percent goes to multi-modal operations like public transit, rail, aviation and bicycle and pedestrian trails. But Glenn says that state officials are hearing that it’s time to spend more in this category.

“So if we’re thinking comprehensively about the system we can’t forget these needs. Some things to consider with regard to multi-modal: ridership demands for public transit and passenger rail will continue to increase, railroad freight traffic is going to play a larger role in the system, airports will remain vital to keeping Missouri connected.”

Group members were also asked to take into account projected cost increases, such as for maintenance, which Glenn says are expected to double over the next 20 years.

Safety remains a top concern for state officials, and addressing the state’s roughly 20,000 miles of roadway that lack adequate shoulders will make a dramatic improvement, Glenn says.

“The cable barriers have been a dramatic improvement for safety. In fact, MoDOT has seen a 38 percent reduction in fatalities on our roadways since 2005. And in 2011, we had the lowest number of fatalities since 1947, which is quite, quite an improvement.”

Economic development will remain a driving force behind transportation projects, with access to a four-lane roadway being one of the top priorities for businesses when deciding to relocate. Thursday’s presentation included an analysis on the impact of the James River Freeway, which runs along the south boarder of Springfield. The $56 million, 14-mile project includes nine interchanges and opened in sections during the mid-1990s. According to the case study, the project area itself showed a 23.5 percent increase in economic development from 1995-2010, while downtown Springfield, the I-44 corridor and the southwest region as a whole showed a 15 percent bump over that same span.

The groups were asked a series of questions when considering transportation projects, including what they see as the top priority, how important it is to keep highway roads and bridges in good condition, the biggest challenges, and what opportunities are likely to be missed.

Another listening session was previously held in Joplin. The ideas will be considered along with those from throughout the state before a final list of priorities is established. MoDOT’s long-range plan will attempt to adequately serve the entire statewide system, which includes 33,000 miles of roads, 125 public airports, over 4,800 miles of railroad tracks, plus the large economic engine of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.

You can learn more on MoDOT and its projects, as well as share your thoughts on transportation issues at www.missourionthemove.org.   

For KSMU news, I’m Scott Harvey.