Wednesday’s meeting hosted by the Missouri Department of Transportation may have been in St. Louis’ Forest Park, but one of the meeting’s biggest topics was a stretch of roadway in Franklin County.
“They highlighted two projects at that meeting, and one of them was widening Highway 47. I thought that was just phenomenal to hear them talk about Highway 47 being one of their priorities,” said Washington Community and Economic Development Director Sal Maniaci, who attended the meeting along with City Administrator Darren Lamb and Public Works Director John Nilges.
The meeting was convened in the wake of MoDOT’s release of its “high-priority unfunded needs” list, which was published last month and identified $825 million worth of high-priority, unfunded annual transportation needs that could be made across the state if additional funding were received.
Patrick McKenna, MoDOT’s executive director, said department officials are still working to better understand just how much money may be coming to Missouri as part of President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill, known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Early estimates say as much as $7 billion could be coming to the state. MoDOT also will see an uptick in revenue from the state’s motor vehicle fuel tax after the Missouri General Assembly approved an increase last legislative session.
“This is the best news we have been able to share in a long time, but money is coming,” McKenna said. “This is money that will allow us to make the biggest series of improvements to our state’s highway network in 30 years. That’s not insignificant. That’s exciting.”
McKenna said MoDOT officials believe they will have the financial resources available to make significant progress on the unfunded priority list. He stopped short, though, of announcing a ribbon-cutting ceremony for an eventual widened Highway 47.
“It is still an unfunded transportation priority,” McKenna said. He said it will likely remain an unfunded project until MoDOT moves it from that list to the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program list, which is known as STIP. The STIP is updated annually by the state’s highways and transportation commission and outlines transportation projects that will be completed during the next five years.
Area Engineer Stephen O’Connor, who oversees MoDOT projects in Franklin and Jefferson counties, said he sees a widened Highway 47 as “something that is definitely going to happen.”
“Right now, there is no time frame because there are too many unknowns,” O’Connor said. McKenna said use of local matching funds can help move a project from the crowded unfunded project list to the to-be-built list.
“The commission allocates $45 million a year into the cost-share program, which is a very competitive program,” McKenna said. “It is a 50-50 match program, but it is one way that communities are able to move their projects ahead of other projects.”
He cited the upcoming construction of the Buck O’Neil bridge in Kansas City and the completed construction of a four-lane Highway 36 across northern Missouri as success stories of these programs.
Lamb said he is encouraging area residents to submit public comment to MoDOT regarding the need for improvements on Highway 47 and other transportation needs in Washington, such as a widened Highway 100 from High Street to the Heidmann Industrial Park.
“It seems to me there is a general understanding that Highway 47 is a priority, which is good,” Lamb said. “But now is not the time to stop talking about (it), to stop bringing attention to it.”
In the meantime, McKenna and O’Connor said state officials will be asking for patience from Franklin County residents and Missourians from across the state.
Patience is something that Maniaci and Lamb said has been in ample supply for motorists, who have battled congested traffic traveling the two-lane highway in Franklin County for years.
“I think we all know that patience is a good thing, especially on something this big,” Maniaci said. He said in his experience that it takes up to three years of planning for some multimillion-dollar government projects.
Widening Highway 47 is definitely a project worth waiting for, Lamb said.
“Sometimes they are decades in the making, but they are worth it,” he said. “This will be worth it.”