By Wally Kennedy
Costs are up while revenue is down. If you’re the Missouri Department of Transportation, the question becomes: What do we need to accomplish?
On Tuesday, a broad range of interests were invited to MoDOT’s former district office in Joplin — now the administration building for the Joplin School District — to give guidance to MoDOT about its future.
In all, 28 people from up and down the Interstate 49 corridor were asked to participate Tuesday in the listening session. A second session will be held at Springfield to gather feedback there.
Becky Baltz, head of MoDOT’s District 7, said the state until recently had about $1.2 billion a year to care for its roads. That has dropped to $700 million a year for highway maintenance. Because of that, she said MoDOT needs to listen to residents of the state to better assess the top transportation priorities.
Baltz said fuel-tax revenue, a key funding source for MoDOT, is declining because vehicles are becoming more fuel efficient. She noted that decrease could become even more dramatic with the rise of electric vehicles. While that is happening, costs are increasing. The cost of concrete has increased nearly 200 percent in the past 10 years. Asphalt has increased by 176 percent. The cost of steel has doubled.
Despite those developments, MoDOT has managed to complete 4,220 projects in the past 10 years at a cost of $11.6 billion. Locally, the projects have included the conversion of U.S. Highway 71 into Interstate 49 and the construction of a roundabout at Highway 43 and Route 96, north of Joplin.
MoDOT is currently involved in the construction of the new interchange at Zora and Main streets, a joint project with the city of Joplin. It also is funding the construction of a diverging diamond interchange at Interstate 44 and Range Line Road. After those are completed, the next big project is the construction of roundabout at Stone’s Corner in 2014.
Potential future projects could include a west bypass for Joplin and the widening of Highway 171 to the Kansas state line.
Those attending were seated in groups with a discussion leader who took notes on their comments. They were asked by consultant Julie Lorenz, with Burns & McDonnell, of Kansas City, to talk about what they saw as the top priorities if the state only had $1.4 billion annually for all transportation-related needs. They then were asked to give their priorities based on a second scenario with $2 billion available.
Actual needs, she said, range from $3 billion to $4 billion annually.
The comments will be collected and combined with those from other listening sessions across the state to give a clear picture of both local and state priorities, said Lorenz.
Rob O’Brian, head of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, who welcomed the participants, said the value of the meeting was connecting people with a common interest.
“The value of this is that they have brought people together who are users from the west side of the district who depend on the transportation system,’’ he said. “They will share what the challenges are and what the opportunities are.’’
From there, O’Brian said, MoDOT will be able to look to the future.
“They will be able to find solutions for what the people want and prioritize that,’’ he said.
MoDOT’s District 7 takes in 21 counties in Southwest Missouri. The region has a population of 926,656, with 6,533 miles of road to maintain.