Even before the new Highway 47 bridge over the Missouri River at Washington opened, for several years concern has been expressed due to the traffic congestion on the highway that connects Washington to Union and St. Clair. It also, as everyone around here knows, is a connection between Interstate 70 to the north and Interstate 44 to the south and to the west.
It may have sounded like it was an act of greed in the transportation world to tell the MoDOT commissioners when they met here about the congestion problem on Highway 47 in Franklin County. It was an opportunity to inform the commissioners and MoDOT officials who were meeting here about the growing concern. At best the highway commissioners only meet in Washington every four or five years.
As for the new bridge, it had to be built. The old 82-year-old bridge was at an age that highway officials were worried about the reliability of the structure. Millions of dollars were spent in the last 15 or 20 years to keep the bridge structurally sound. On top of that, MoDOT had to inspect it on a regular basis to ensure it was safe for traffic. Also, it was built for traffic in the 1930s and its narrow lanes were a hazard. It was touch and go for some farm equipment traffic and large trucks.
So the bridge had to be replaced. It was a huge safety concern.
The traffic on Highway 47 is the most intense between Washington and Union — bumper to bumper on certain days at certain hours. Traffic backups extend over long distances. With Union being the seat of a county with more than 100,000 people, that adds to the traffic, along with East Central College and the industries in both Union and Washington. It’s a valuable link to jobs. It’s needed for commerce. Its importance in economic development can’t be emphasized enough.
The state is aware of the congestion in Franklin County and in other parts of the state. Missouri doesn’t fund its roads and bridges problems to meet the needs. Right now the state is just trying to maintain what it has with the income it has. There are some federal funds that Missouri shares in, but those dollars are below the targeted needs. Prop D would have helped the shortfall but voters turned it down. That increase in the gasoline tax — Missouri has the second lowest fuel tax among the nation’s states — would have helped.
The only solution is cost-sharing with the state for a dual-lane Highway 47. Union must be involved since it has a terrible situation with the Highway 47-Highway 50 intersection. Franklin County also has a role since it’s an economic development issue. St. Clair also should be interested in a cost-sharing project with the state.
It is going to take enlightened leadership to bring all the parties together in a joint cost-sharing effort. It’s up to the leadership of the entities to meet the challenge and get the people behind a fundraising program.
The first step has been taken in a just-completed study paid for by entities in the county. Now we’re talking about a leap forward with a funding plan to cost-share with the state.
The people need to give their support to a plan of this type to solve the funding problem. The improvement won’t happen without cost-sharing.