Guest editorial

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Just a few years ago, the Missouri Department of Transportation was in deep financial trouble and was experiencing a loss of confidence among highway users, taxpayers and politicians.

Now MoDOT is experiencing a kick-start in project funding, thanks to approval last November of a constitutional amendment that directed more revenue from vehicle and fuel taxes to highways. The turnaround is a major one. And it marks a new era for MoDOT in maintaining existing highways and planning for future projects.

In all, nearly $800 million of highway spending has been authorized by the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission since December. The first portion was $159 million for the first phase of what MoDOT is calling the Smooth Roads Initiative, which is aimed at repairs and upgrades for existing highways. At a meeting earlier this month, the commission approved another $200 million for the initiative along with $432 million for 55 projects that will be completed earlier than planned, thanks to the extra funding.

Transportation officials have another big task ahead as they begin to evaluate some $1.3 billion of new major projects. MoDOT expects to have something for the commission to consider by May. The diversion of highway funds, which was addressed by the constitutional amendment approved last year, was a major funding factor for highways in Missouri. While voters clearly wanted the diversion to end, they probably had no idea how much impact the extra funding would make.

-- Southeast Missourian