JEFFERSON CITY – Highway projects important to local commerce may have to wait a while before dirt starts moving.
Initially, the Missouri Department of Transportation included the widening of Route 210 to four lanes from Ameristar Casino to Route 291 in Clay County. Many Ray County residents commute to Kansas City and bottlenecks can occur in that area during rush hours.
MoDOT Chief Engineer Kevin Keith told a group from Richmond on Monday the project was bumped for a bigger project in the eyes of the Mid America Regional Council. Instead, funds will be funneled towards fixing congestion at the interchange of Interstates 435 and 70 in Kansas City, Mo.
Keith said originally the 210 project was on the list because the project could be ready to go in 120 days. He said MoDOT did not think initially the project could be designed and ready in 120 days.
Keith said early talks about the Recovery Act of 2009 had the bill pegged as an infrastructure bill, but in reality is not. He said only 3 percent of the bill is dedicated to road and bridge projects. He said they were told up front the bill is about jobs. He said transportation priorities were not considered in the process because of time.
“It’s about everything other than infrastructure,” he said. “We didn’t really get to do transportation priorities as much as we would have liked to. We had to start with what’s ready to be done.”
Keith said about $100 million of projects that are not on the stimulus list will be designed and ready to go in the next six months in anticipation of receiving additional stimulus money that other states do not use. He said the 210 project is on that list. Keith said Missouri will use every penny of its money and has never given any money back that went unused. Keith said there are some states that have not even begin to plan projects. Half of the stimulus money has to be allocated in 120 days and some states have not even begun planning yet, he said and added that usually the state gets extra money each year because for some reason not all states use all the money.
“We’ll actually get two bites of the apple,” Keith said.
Another important project to the area is the widening of Highway 13 to connect Ray County with Interstate 70 in Lafayette County. That project is not on the 10-year plan, according to Keith; however, the piece of highway that will go around the city of Lexington is scheduled to begin next year.
Ray County is not totally left out of the pie. $323,000 will be spent on Route M from Route U to Highway 210. The county will also have cold-in-place improvements to roads as well.
A debate that sparked during the meeting on Monday is whether or not future funding should be focused on big state projects like Interstates 70 and 44 or focus on more local projects.
Missouri Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Stouffer said the 70 and 44 projects are the number one priority in Missouri, in his opinion. He said 39 percent of Missourians work within three miles of the highways and that 36 percent of all freight in the United States goes through Missouri.
Stouffer used a historical reference to the point in history Missouri is at. He said the decision of Kansas City to build a bridge over the Missouri River rather than St. Joseph determined the fate of the two cities. He said we’re at that point now with I-70 and I-44.
“I think we’re at one of those turning points in history where if we make a few appropriate investments now we can set Missouri up for the next 100 years,” he said. “It’s there for the taking.”