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The Rolla Daily News - Rolla, MO
  • Route 63 widening top priority if sales tax goes to ballot

  • Motorists traveling from Rolla to Jefferson City could one day see four lanes of highway if a three-fourths cent sales tax makes it to the voters in November.
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  • Motorists traveling from Rolla to Jefferson City could one day see four lanes of highway if a three-fourths cent sales tax makes it to the voters in November.
    Currently, lawmakers in Jefferson City are haggling over a bill that would fund construction, operating costs and alternative modes of transportation, such as railroads, ports, airports and methods of transportation for the disabled.
    Lyle Thomas, community development specialist with the Meramec Regional Planning Commission (MRPC), says the U.S. Highway 63 widening project tops the highway priorities list in the Meramec region.
    "The project lists being compiled will be used to schedule transportation projects if the proposed three-fourths cent transportation sales tax is approved by voters in November," Thomas said.
    The top project includes the widening of Highway 63 from the Phelps/Texas county line to U.S. Highway 50 in Osage County to four lanes, with shoulders and horizontal line improvements.
    There are approximately 8,000 miles of state and federal highway in the eight-county Meramec region alone.
    "You have to be good stewards of the taxpayers' money," Thomas said. "People are more likely to be accepting if they know what the money is going to go for.
    "This project, and 29 others selected during this process, will be presented to MoDOT (Missouri Department of Transportation) Central District during late May where they will be evaluated and ranked with other projects submitted from the other 10 counties of the Central District," Thomas said. "The selection of projects at the district level will be based on the following criteria – taking care of the existing transportation system, safety, spur economic development and create jobs and providing better transportation choices,” Thomas said.
    “Project cost will also play a part in selection process. When the final list of projects is compiled, the list will be available for review."
    The second- and third-ranked highway projects in the Meramec region are the addition of a third lane on Highway 19 from the Highway 28 junction to the north city limits sign in Gasconade County, and the widening of U.S. Highway 50 to four lanes from about one mile west of Linn in Osage County to the Gasconade/ Franklin county line.
    Other improvement projects in Phelps County include additional lanes and traffic control at the Interstate 44/University Drive overpass and the extension of Route 72 to I-44 at or near a proposed fifth interchange. MRPC has ranked those projects eighth and 10th respectively.
    In St. James, a project to further road improvements for safety and capacity on Route 8 to the Crawford County line is ranked 16th.
    MRPC can only take 15 highway projects to MoDOT, but all projects will remain on the priorities list, Thomas said.
    Missouri has the seventh largest transportation system in the United States. However, it ranks 41st in funding, drawing its funding from portions of fuel sales tax, licensing fees and sales tax on motor vehicles.
    Page 2 of 2 - According to a recent report from The Associated Press, most of the revenue would fund road and bridge construction, but some money could be used to construct other modes of transportation.
    The Senate recently scaled back a House-approved one-cent sales tax to a three-fourths cent sales tax, which has been sent back to the House for approval. If the measure passes, it will be sent to the voters in November.
    Locally, Sen. Dan Brown, and Reps. Keith Frederick and Robert Ross voted no on the measure, while Rep. Tom Hurst voted yes.
    A three-fourths cent sales tax would add an estimated $534 million annually over 10 years, while the original 1-cent sales tax would generate $720 million per year, the AP reported.
    According to Bob Brendel of MoDOT, the cost to simply maintain the system with no additional projects is $485 million per year.
    Brendel says the construction budget for fiscal year 2014 was $685 million, a decrease from $746 million in fiscal year 2013. The last two years showed stronger numbers than in 2012, however, when the budget was $641 million.
    But uncertainty with MoDOT's funding sources continues to be an issue. According to the AP report, the state projects that its construction budget will dip to $325 million in 2017.
    "We're going to always do as much as we can with what we have, but in reality, transportation in Missouri has been underfunded for quite some time," said MoDOT Area Engineer Preston Kramer. "There are very few states that have larger transportation systems with less funding.
    "We are keeping an eye on the progress of this bill. It does look favorable that the citizens of Missouri will be able to vote on this.
    “When we walk into the polls, we need to see that something benefits us…Our planning partners have taken their jobs very, very seriously," Kramer continued. "They do a very good job of representing their communities.”
    The AP reported that the sales tax would require reauthorization through a referendum every 10 years.
    If the measure makes it to the ballot, a link to the online list of projects in the Meramec region will be available through this publication and at www.meramecregion.org.

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