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With half of America’s population within a 10 hour drive of the Missouri border, some believe Missouri should be at the forefront of goods distribution.
One person advocating for this idea is Missouri Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Stouffer, R-Napton.
Stouffer told around 40 Ray Countians Thursday night, Missouri needs to utilize the natural resources it has – mainly the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. He said the Panama Canal will begin two-way traffic in 2013 and will open up more barge traffic into the Gulf of Mexico, which could lead to more traffic north on the Mississippi River.
Stouffer said that traffic could reach as far north as Missouri’s boot heel.
“We’ve got the Missouri River and the Mississippi River which are two natural resources we totally underutilize,” Stouffer said. “We have a tremendous opportunity and we need to take advantage of our natural resources.”
Missouri Department of Transportation District Engineer Elizabeth Wright told the audience that of MoDOT’s $2 billion annual budget, only $20 million goes towards transportation other than highways.
She said if the state is going to focus on other transportation projects, more funding will be needed or the focus will have to change. Missouri has the seventh largest highway system in America but in spending ranks 45th.
“We are called the department of transportation but we are funded as a highway department,” Wright said. “If we are going to do that in Missouri we are going to have to invest additional money.”
Wright said a big safety concern travelers have is driving along side tractor-trailer trucks. Wright said 25 percent of traffic along Interstate Highways 70 and 44 is tractor-trailer trucks. She said by 2030, MoDOT anticipates that number jumping to more than 50 percent.
Wright said Missouri is currently talking with the states of Illinois, Indiana and Ohio about a new I-70 that would feature two truck lanes each way separated by two car lanes both ways.
The design Wright showed to those in attendance displayed four truck lanes separated in the middle by concrete barriers. On the outside of each truck lane are two lanes for cars that are separated by a grass median.
Wright said if the plan goes forward, Missouri would be the first state with this type of highway design.
“I-70 is the lifeline of the entire United States,” Wright said. “We would not be the Show Me State. We would be the first to implement this system but we would not be alone.
“We need to know if this something you’re interested in,” she added. “We need to know if you’re willing to invest more in these larger transportation projects.”
Stouffer said investing more on getting trucks off the road and onto rail cars would greatly benefit Missouri’s highways not only from a safety standpoint but an economic one as well. He said 47 percent of goods imported through ports in Southern California cross the Mississippi River.
“The good thing about this is we’re not going to be changing anybody’s habits,” Stouffer said.
Wright said in the next few years MoDOT would start aggressively selling this idea to the public.