With the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) getting extra funding because of the recently passed gasoline tax increase, as well as the possibility of a $1 trillion federal infrastructure bill, some long-dreamed-of highway plans are popping back up.
But there appears to be no current momentum for the the previously discussed ideas that would have Highway 50 widened to four lanes from Union west to beyond Jefferson City.
MoDOT Director Patrick McKenna said he is not aware of any movement on the possibility of Highway 50 being widened.
“There are always whisper campaigns built on all kinds of stuff,” he said. “There are desires that are out there to improve conditions all around.”
McKenna cautions that major road projects take lots of money. “Even maintaining our existing system takes money, resources every year because of the inflationary impact,” he said.
That was made clear by the estimated longterm price tag of improving a 13-mile stretch of Highway 47 from Washington to St. Clair: $175 million.
Once the 12.5-cents-per-gallon gas tax increase is fully implemented, MoDOT will have hundreds of millions more available in additional money annually. The agency will then be able to determine exactly what there is funding for.
“As we go through the planning process, and as we go through and draw in all the feedback to determine what the priorities are for getting construction done, all of those types of things are going to come out,” he said. “We’ll have a good public vetting, and we’ll try to match up the demand for improvement against the resource availability. Right now, it’s between what is possible and what is absolutely needed.”
Highway 50 is currently two lanes from Union west to just west of Linn, where it expands to four lanes through Jefferson City to California, Missouri.
Union Assistant City Administrator James Schmieder said at the Sept. 2 Union Development Corp. board meeting that there was a push to expand Highway 50 to four lanes to Jefferson City but that it had taken a back seat to improvements to Highway 47.
After the meeting, Schmieder said he’ll “believe that when I see it” in regards to the expansion of Highway 50.
“Every now and then we’ll hear rumblings about, ‘Oh, yeah, the state wants to make 50 four-lanes all the way to Jeff City,” he said. “It’s always rumors.”
Expanding Highway 50 has long been an issue. According to Missourian archives, the Highway 50 Partnership, which included Union, was formed in 2009 and was “recognized” by MoDOT.
The partnership sought funding to widen Highway 50 to four lanes from Sedalia to Interstate 44, just east of Union.
Highway 50 Partnership organizers said that a $7 billion widening project could be funded by a one-eighth cent sales tax. A study was funded by cities and counties along the stretch of the highway, and findings were presented to legislators in 2009.
The Highway 50 Partnership was spearheaded by the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce. Asked if the partnership was still active, Jefferson City Chamber President Gary Plummer told The Missourian he just arrived in Jefferson City a few months ago and was not aware of the coalition “but would like to explore that.”
Upgrading Highway 50 just 3 miles from Progress Parkway on the east side of Union to Interstate 44 would cost an estimated $39 million and is listed as a Tier III project, according to the East-West Gateway Council of Government’s Connected2045 long-range transportation plan.
In 2010, Highway 50 was widened from two to four lanes from Highway 47 South to east of Denmark Road and Progress Parkway.
That first phase of the project was $7 million and was completed through cost-sharing between Franklin County and the city of Union, according to Missourian archives.
According to a 2011 Missourian story, an East-West Gateway draft regional transportation plan that was slated for funding starting in 2040 had a cost of widening Highway 50 to four lanes from Independence Drive on the west side of Union to Highway EE between Union and Beaufort at $43 million. Further widening of Highway 50 from Highway EE to the Gasconade County line would cost an additional $149 million.