Widening Highway 47 between Washington and St. Clair is on the Missouri Department of Transportation’s radar screen, a state official said Thursday.
Gregory Horn, MoDOT’s new district engineer for the St. Louis region, met with city and county representatives to discuss the project.
Local officials say the highway needs to be widened to alleviate safety and congestion problems.
“I think we understand it’s important to you and it’s one of the most important (projects) in your region here,” Horn said.
Washington Mayor Sandy Lucy gave a presentation that contained numerous pictures of traffic backed up on Highway 47.
A proposed state 1-cent transportation sales tax that may go on the ballot for voters to decide appears to be the best option to finance the project.
A petition effort has been proposed to collect enough signatures to put the 1-cent transportation sales tax on the ballot in the 2014 general election.
“We think this would be an ideal project to include in the 1-cent sales tax initiative,” Lucy said. “We would like to do everything that we possibly could to get our ducks in a row to be part of that.”
She added that she thinks widening Highway 47 should be “somewhere toward the top of the list” for the 1-cent sales tax funding if it passes.
The hope is that the state officials will recognize the need to widen Highway 47 so that it will be a top priority project if funding becomes available though the 1-cent transportation sales tax.
“We have heard your voice,” MoDOT Area Engineer Judy Wagner said.
Horn said MoDOT currently is working on its long-range plan. He explained that the initiative petition to get the 1-cent tax on the ballot calls for a 10-year list of projects.
Over the next three months, the East-West Gateway Council of Governments is going to work on a process to prioritize projects, Horn said.
Between March and June, the projects that would be funded with the tax would be prioritized, he said.
Horn said he thinks the Highway 47 widening project will be “fairly high on our list.”
Lucy noted that MoDOT’s Missouri on the Move Initiative identified the top transportation needs as maintaining the existing system, making safety improvements, spurring economic development and giving people more transportation choices, such as bike lanes.
Highway 47 easily meets the criteria for safety improvements, Lucy said. She pointed out that between 2007 and 2011 there was an average daily traffic count of 16,044 vehicles per day on the highway between Union and Washington. The crash rate was nearly 220 percent of the state average for two-lane roads, Lucy added. The average number of accidents in that five-year span was 142 per year, with 72 percent of them being rear-end collisions.
Likewise, between Union and St. Clair, there were 15,086 vehicles per day on average in that time period with a crash rate of about 125 percent of the state average for two-lane roads, she said. The average number of accidents was 68 per year, and 30 of them were rear-end collisions, the mayor noted.
Economics also factor into the need for widening Highway 47, Lucy said, noting that many people use the roadway to travel to work in Washington.
And she said Mercy hospital in Washington is on Highway 47 and is the primary health care provider for people in Franklin and surrounding counties.
Local officials are trying to get preliminary studies done now so widening Highway 47 can begin quickly if the tax passes.
Lucy also noted that local government entities are willing to put money toward the project. 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 and the rest of the money to pay for it will have to be identified, Horn noted.
He said it is possible that the study could start prior to the vote on the transportation tax. Regardless of whether the tax passes, “You’re going to need the study anyway,” Horn said.
But he said he does not see the study starting before the summer.
Union Mayor Mike Livengood said right now the widening is heavily reliant on the 1-cent transportation tax passing. But if it does not, the project still needs to keep going forward, Livengood said.
MoDOT’s revenue is rapidly declining because of more fuel-efficient cars. If the transportation tax does not pass, the state will be facing serious transportation funding problems, according to Horn.
In several years, MoDOT will be short of money to maintain its existing system if another revenue source is not located, he said.
If more money is not located, then the question will be which bridges and roads to close, Horn said.