The leaders of transportation in Missouri are acutely aware of the need for a new Highway 47 bridge over the Missouri River at Washington. That was evident in talking and listening to transportation commissioners and Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) officials who were here for one of the commission’s regular meetings Tuesday and Wednesday.

The new five-year State Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP) approved by commissioners Wednesday includes a new bridge at Washington. Construction is expected to begin no later than 2017.

We got a kick out of remarks by Kevin Keith, MoDOT director, who said once the bridge construction begins there will be another push for transportation improvements in Franklin County. You didn’t have to remind him of Highway 47 from Washington to St. Clair. He said he expects that to be the next request that will be given a top priority by people in this area. He explained it’s the same all over the state. You finish one project and move to another — there’s no rest in trying to meet needs. Keith said the department is performing well despite all the cuts MoDOT has had to make to conform to available funding.

We asked him about Interstate 70. One proposal that has been floated but has all but sunk is a dedicated new lane for trucks, which would pay a toll to pay for the dedicated lane. He said he didn’t think any plan that would single out a single payer would fly.

A Blue Ribbon Citizens Committee is holding hearings around the state to try and come up with new ideas about funding for transportation. Five hearings have been held and two more will be held. The committee’s findings and recommended funding proposals will be forwarded to the General Assembly.

A problem is that members of  the Legislature have been reluctant to support a tax increase, fearing it will jeopardize their re-election chances. As long as that attitude prevails there is no hope of the legislature doing anything.

At the riverfront dinner for the state transportation officials Tuesday evening, Rudy Farber, a banker from Neosho, chairman of the commission, was very complimentary to Washington and its citizens. He praised the volunteerism in Washington and gave special mention to the volunteer fire department. He also pointed to Washington’s other civic actions and said, “It’s a wonderful city.”

Among the MoDOT officials present was Judy Wagner, area engineer. The city presented gift baskets to the commissioners and MoDOT officials. Judy was given a stand-up round of applause when she accepted the gift. She is respected by all officials in the county because she listens to concerns and does her best to find solutions.

Mayor Sandy Lucy and City Administrator Jim Briggs presided at the brief dinner program. Farber mentioned that the group had toured the Lucy Gallery and said Washington was fortunate to have a store such as that, and to be the home of artist Gary Lucy.

This was the second time the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission has held a meeting here. The state officials seemed to enjoy their visit and the hospitality provided.