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Despite A Departure And Continuing Funding Issues, MoDOT Looks To The Future

Cody Newill
KCUR 89.3

At the Missouri Highway and Transportation Commission's June meeting at Union Station Tuesday, one thing was clear: Despite a lower total budget than last year, the Missouri Department of Transportation is looking to the future.

Commission Vice Chair Steve Miller says that, although the Missouri General Assembly didn't increase fuel taxes this session to help fund roads and bridges, the reinstatement of a $20 million cost-sharing program is a boon.

"Cost-share allows us to work in conjunction with local entities where they provide a portion of funding and we provide another portion," Miller says. "We'll be working on that over the next few months to make certain that that is equitably and fairly put together and that there are procedures for local entities to compete for that money."

The cost-sharing program was shuttered in 2014 due to budget shortfalls, but cuts to TANF and SNAP benefits allowed lawmakers to redirect those funds into MoDOT. Two-thirds of those dollars are marked for road and bridge repairs and replacements, while the remaining third can be used for "multi-modal" projects like rail, ports and airports.

Commissioners also discussed MoDOT's budget for the 2017 fiscal year, which comes slightly under last year's at nearly $2.1 billion. Still, Financial Services Director Brenda Morris says revenue has ended up higher than it has been in two decades.

"The general revenue changed from $14.3 million in May to $50 million in June," Morris says. "The $50 million in general revenue is the most appropriated to MoDOT in the last 20 years."

Several Commissioners caution that funding is still sparse, regardless of this year's increase. 

The Commission also gave an update on its "Road to Tomorrow" project, which was started a year ago to identify areas where the department can find innovation and incorporate technology.

St. Louis Assistant District Engineer Tom Blair presented five pilot projects that MoDOT is working toward, including testing solar powered road panels made by Solar Roadways, finding additional TIGER grant funding and looking toward internet connectivity along roadways.

Blair made clear that the projects needed to show concrete money savings or revenue generation, given funding uncertainty.

"Creation of energy on public right of way is a thing that many DOTs are doing," Blair says, "[MoDOT's team] is focused on the historic Route 66 welcome center in Conway, Missouri. We hope that'll be the home of the first Solar Roadways panels. We expect them to be in place, I'm hoping, by the end of this year."

While most of the meeting was upbeat, with presentations by KCATA President and CEO Robbie Makinen, MARC Executive Director David Warm and others, there was a bittersweet moment for Miller, who announced that he will step away from the Commission on July 1. 

Miller received a standing ovation from the audience after making remarks. He joined the Commission seven years ago, and said it was time to step away. He says he wants to return to Kansas City for his law practice, but also says he wants to look for other public service opportunities.

Cody Newill is the digital editor for KCUR 89.3. Follow him on Twitter @CodyNewill

Cody Newill is part of KCUR's audience development team. Follow him on Twitter @CodyNewill or email him at cody@kcur.org.
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