By Ed Pruneau
Missourian Managing Editor
Unless a new revenue source is found — like the 1-cent statewide transportation sales tax being discussed — it may be many years before new major road projects will be started in Missouri.
Especially since the Missouri Department of Transportation has put the brakes on new and cost-sharing projects.
That was the word Monday from Judy Wagner, MoDOT area engineer, to members of the Washington Area Highway Transportation Committee.
Wagner said at a press conference last week, MoDOT Director Greg Horn announced that the state agency will not be undertaking any new major projects and has put an end to cost-sharing projects with cities and counties, due to looming revenue shortfalls.
“The cliff that we have talked about is coming up,” Wagner said at the committee meeting.
The biggest impact for this area will be a halt to plans to widen and improve the Highway 47 corridor from Washington to St. Clair.
A joint committee composed of officials from Franklin County and the cities of Washington, Union and St. Clair, have been pushing for the widening project to relieve congestion along Route 47.
“The Highway 47 corridor project is not possible at this time,” Wagner said, unless more revenue for projects can be found.
A number of years ago, Missouri lawmakers approved a major bond issue that was used to finance a large variety of transportation improvements around the state.
While those projects are finished, the bond payments continue.
In the last five years, MoDOT’s construction budget had dropped from $1.3 billion annually to $685 million this year. By 2017, that amount is projected to be $325 million.
A big question is whether the state will be able to provide matches for federal grant funds, “or will those (grants) go to other states?” Wagner said.
“It’s a shock, but it’s here. We knew it was coming,” she told the committee.
MoDOT recently completed work on a new 20-year plan, but there is no funding for it, Wagner said.
Currently, the “best hope” for the proposed 1-cent transportation sales tax lies with Missouri lawmakers, Andy Potthast, a project manager with HNTB, an engineering firm, told the committee.
A bill has been introduced in the Missouri House to place the sales tax proposal, with a 10-year sunset provision, on the November election ballot.
The alternative would be to get enough signatures on an initiative petition to put the issue before the voters.
But that may not fly, Potthast said, because Secretary of State Jason Kander removed petition language mentioning the 10-year sunset clause and a provision to prohibit charging tolls for road or bridge projects during the 10 years.
Potthast said according to polls, support for the tax issue dropped 10 percent when the sunset and tolling language was removed from the petition.
Mayor Sandy Lucy, who helped form the Highway 47 Corridor Committee, said members of the group plan to meet next week with representatives of the East-West Gateway Council of Governments which is the clearinghouse for federal transportation funds.
Franklin County, Washington, Union, St. Clair, and the Washington Special Road District have committed a total of $180,000 in seed money toward a preliminary environmental assessment that has to be done for the project.
The study may cost around $1 million.