JEFFERSON CITY - The Missouri Department of Transportation has sold the last of the bonds authorized by a constitutional amendment voters passed in November 2004. Amendment 3 ended the diversion of highway user fees to certain state agencies and redirected them to road and bridge projects. MoDOT sold the bonds yesterday to capitalize on the current historically low interest rates.
The additional funding has enabled MoDOT to tackle such major projects as the rebuilding of Interstate 64 in St. Louis, the reconstruction of about five miles of interstate highway near downtown Kansas City which includes a new, iconic Missouri River bridge and the Smooth Roads Initiative, which improved 2,200 miles of the state's busiest highways in 2005 and 2006.
"Today 83 percent of Missouri's major highways are in good condition, compared to 47 percent in 2004," MoDOT Director Pete Rahn said. "Amendment 3 has enabled us to make significant improvements to our highway system, as well as create jobs and increase safety. We've experienced a 24 percent decrease in highway deaths since 2005. That means more of our loved ones are coming home alive."
The amendment required MoDOT to sell bonds to leverage the additional funding the agency received, rather than using the proceeds on a pay-as-you-go basis. As a result, MoDOT was able to tackle a three-pronged highway improvement initiative called Smoother, Safer, Sooner.
In addition to giving the 2,200 miles of major highways included in the Smooth Roads Initiative new pavement, wider, more reflective stripes, rumble strips and brighter signs, the department began work on 55 projects that otherwise wouldn't have been addressed for several years. The extra funding also allowed MoDOT to start 97 brand new projects. The 55 accelerated projects are complete. Seventy-four of the new major projects are under way, with 23 still to be bid.
Rahn said the additional financing helped the state keep its roads and bridges from severe deterioration, but is not the long-term solution. Even with the extra money MoDOT received from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the state is facing a huge drop in the amount of funding available for transportation in future years.
"The construction boom we've enjoyed these past few years is about to come to a screeching halt," Rahn said. "Funding for transportation is being challenged at all levels."
Federal and state funding for transportation comes mainly from fuel taxes, automobile sales tax and motor vehicle and licensing fees. The sluggish economy has hurt new car sales and last year's spike in gasoline prices caused people to drive less and buy more fuel-efficient cars. As a result, state revenue from taxes and fees in fiscal year 2009 was down 4.9 percent, or $52 million, compared to fiscal year 2008. Compounding the problem is the future of the federal highway bill, which is up in the air as Congress and the administration debate a plan of action.
"We've had a good ride, but we won't be able to maintain the momentum we've gained unless we identify new sources of revenue for transportation," Rahn said.
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