City officials are trying to figure out where they can find $50,000 to help pay for an environmental assessment of the Highway 47 corridor between St. Clair and Washington.
City Administrator Rick Childers told the board of aldermen on Monday that each of the entities involved have been asked to pitch in the money so the $200,000 study can be done. He said the cities of Washington and Union already have pledged their share and he thinks Franklin County already has given its support as well.
The Highway 47 Corridor Committee has been looking into seeing if the roadway can be widened to four lanes between St. Clair and Washington to ease vehicle congestion and improve traffic flow. The project is hitting financial snags and has not been deemed a priority by the Missouri Department of Transportation.
On top of that, a bill to put a sales tax on the ballot for Missouri voters to decide continues to get bogged down in the state Legislature. The Missourian reported on Wednesday that the bill, which is an attempt to generate revenue for the state’s ailing roads and bridges, has passed in the Senate but still had not made it on the House floor.
But State Rep. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, said on Friday, that the bill will be discussed on the House floor next week, which is the final week of this year’s legislative session.
Schatz said he feels the bill has a good chance of passing the Legislature and going to a vote of the people.
Initially, the proposal was for a 1-cent transportation tax over 10 years, but lately there has been discussion of changing it to a three-quarter cent tax over 15 years. It is unclear which proposal has the best chance of passing.
The Highway 47 Corridor Committee, which has members from Franklin County, St. Clair, Union and Washington, says it needs the revenue from the proposed transportation sales tax to fund the expansion of the corridor.
But, it also needs money for the assessment study.
“In meetings with the county and MoDOT, the committee has been advised that to accomplish significant improvements to the roadway the first step is a completion of environmental assessments,” Childers said. “Toward that end, the committee has requested a pledge of funds from the cities of St. Clair, Union and Washington and from Franklin County, in the amount of $50,000 from each entity.
“These funds will provide the basis for requesting qualifications, selecting an appropriate firm and negotiating a contract.”
Childers then said, “The administration requests consideration of this request by the board of aldermen.”
Mayor Ron Blum told board members that, “In all honesty, this probably won’t happen in my lifetime,” but added that “Highway 47 is a heavily traveled road. This funding would just be part of the first phase. The money requested will help get the ball rolling and maybe make the project happen sooner than later.”
Aldermen were quick to ask where the city could find the $50,000. Blum and Childers had no real answer.
“I’m real excited about the potential development of the Highway 47 corridor,” Blum said. “I hope it will happen. And, I’d like for us to participate in this assessment, but we just don’t have the revenue like Washington and Union have.
“General revenue in those two communities is a lot higher, probably four- or five-fold.”
“It’s a lot of money,” Ward 2 Alderman Barb McGlenn said.
Aldermen then discussed whether St. Clair could give some money toward the assessment, but not $50,000.
“I don’t agree that all four entities should give the same amount,” Ward 2 Alderman Travis Dierker said. “I don’t think all four would be affected the same with the improvements (to the highway). I think we would be the least impacted, and Union the most impacted.”
Ward 1 Alderman Zach Fuchs asked if overall revenues from the three cities could be compared so the local aldermen could make a better decision about whether to help fund the assessment and for how much.
“I think then we would be able to make a better decision on this,” he said.
After the board continued to struggle about what to say and recommend, Blum suggested more information be gathered for the aldermen for a future meeting.
“I’ll put it back on the agenda after we get that additional information,” Childers said.
Officials have estimated that a 1-cent tax would generate about $7.9 billion over 10 years.
The Highway 47 Corridor Committee hopes the tax can provide the funding needed to expand Highway 47 between Washington and St. Clair.
The committee was hoping to get some of the preliminary environmental studies done so the project would be ready to go under construction once funding became available.
Even if the tax fails, MoDOT Area Engineer Judy Wagner has said there is still value in doing some preliminary environmental studies on expanding the road. Such a study would continue to be useful for years to come, she said.
In fact, some committee members recently conducted preliminary discussions with several consultants about what would be involved in conducting an environmental study for the project.
During earlier discussions, the corridor committee said it would cost about $200,000 to have the first portion of the environmental study done. The group discussed dividing that cost among Franklin County, St. Clair, Washington and Union.
First District County Commissioner Tim Brinker has said that he would be in favor of the county putting up $100,000 of the study cost and letting the three cities split the rest. But last month the committee discussed each entity putting up $50,000.