Patrick McKenna, who is wrapping up his first year as director of the Missouri Department of Transportation, said he wants to create a “citizen/taxpayer-centric” approach to addressing transportation issues and funding in Missouri.
McKenna attended the regular meeting of the Washington Area Highway Transportation Committee Monday morning and covered a lot of ground during an hour-long presentation.
Among the highlights, McKenna:
• Stressed the importance of better educating citizens about Missouri’s transportation system and needs;
• Agreed that it would be good to encourage the formation of more local transportation committees, like Washington’s, to foster a greater partnership on transportation issues;
• Explained how Missouri has the seventh largest transportation system in the nation but is 47th in funding resources; and
• Said taxpayers pay much more due to congestion and other traffic issues than they pay in fuel taxes.
McKenna, during his time traveling around the state, said one thing that struck him was “how complicated” transportation issues are.
Key among those are the current funding, what Missourians pay and what is the cost needed to fix the problems, he noted.
“This is not about funding MoDOT. It should be about funding transportation in Missouri,” McKenna remarked.
“MoDOT is a service provider; it’s about providing service around the state,” he explained. “It’s important to understand how we’re funded.”
McKenna pointed to the new Highway 47 Missouri River bridge that’s going up, calling it “a great project.”
The impact of the new bridge for the community will be “dramatic,” he stated.
But it is one of 206 major bridges in the state, he noted.
“We should be investing in five or six bridge projects a year,” McKenna said. However, over the last several decades “we’ve invested in, maybe, one a year.”
McKenna said the majority of MoDOT’s $2.1 billion annual funding comes from user fees, like motor fuel taxes, both state and federal. Combined, they account for 65 percent of revenue for MoDOT.
Currently, Missouri receives more in federal tax dollars than it sends to Washington, the director noted.
For every $1 that is sent to Washington, Missouri receives about $1.20 back, McKenna said.
“We’re a recipient state,” he noted.
In 2010, MoDOT was forced to consolidate operations and downsize the number of employees. That resulted in savings of about $100 million a year.
“We’re putting that directly back into road construction,” McKenna stated.
The director said MoDOT plans to begin an interactive website in mid-November designed to initiate a conversation with citizens, and explain where the money comes from and how it is invested.
McKenna said he is a strong supporter of a user fee based system of funding transportation.
Anything that moves Missouri away from a user fee system is “moving us in the wrong direction,” Mc-Kenna remarked.
Bill Miller Sr., committee member, said he does not think a website will be as helpful in educating the public. Instead, he said, MoDOT should get more news out to the media.
McKenna responded, saying he agrees that it should be a “multifaceted” approach to educating the citizens.
“It will be an ongoing process to spread information,” McKenna said. “We plan on doing more.”
During his first year in the office, McKenna said he has been looking at the problem of Interstate 70 and what can be done to fix the aging highway facility.
He noted that the state is “running out of time” and will be faced with fixing certain components in the near future.
“We must address this,” he commented, noting that the state has been looking at three main options for upgrading I-70, ranging from constructing four lanes in each direction, including freight lanes, to utilizing the median to add a third lane each way.
McKenna said he wants to look at a fourth option that may include adding a voluntary toll lane on part of the system to help fund improvements.
The MoDOT director mentioned that the average motorist spends an average of $43 a month, or over $500 per year, due to traffic congestion issues, including detours due to aging bridges or other structures.
Ray Frankenberg Jr., committee member, said MoDOT needs to utilize local officials and groups to get that information out to the public.
“We can’t make decisions to fix everything overnight,” he said, stressing the need to educate the public.
“We can’t grow without transportation,” Frankenberg said. “I can’t believe we’re spending only one-tenth of our cellphone bills on transportation.”