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Business and economy news and issues in the Ozarks.

MoDOT Proposes Scaled-Back Road Maintenance

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Credit MoDOT
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Due to the ongoing drop in highway funding, the Missouri Department of Transportation wants to scale back maintenance of most of the state's roads and bridges.

Transportation officials say it costs an estimated $485 million a year just to maintain Missouri's 34,000 miles of roads and bridges, but the state will only have about $325 million a year on hand by the year 2017. During Wednesday's meeting of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission in Jefferson City, MoDOT Director David Nichols unveiled a proposal entitled the "Missouri 325 System." If adopted, it would reclassify 8,000 miles of roads as "primary," and would keep them fully maintained.

"Primary roads cover the entire state," Nichols said. "There is a primary road identified in every county of the state of Missouri … (they connect) communities together, and (they are) the areas that we're going to make our investment in."

As defined by the MHTC and detailed in Nichols' report, primary roads are "those routes that connect the state's communities, as opposed to roads that are used primarily for local travel." That means numerous towns and villages in Missouri will not have a primary road, though they may be near one.

Nichols says it will take the entire $325 million a year Missouri is projected to have to fully maintain roads classified as primary. The remaining 26,000 miles of roads in Missouri -- including some in the St. Louis area -- would be considered "supplementary" and would only get limited maintenance.

"We will not do any capital improvements (on supplementary roads); we won't be able to go out and do a major resurfacing," Nichols said. "We will patch potholes, we'll do repairs to the traffic signals, we'll plow the snow, mow the grass on the right-of-way, stripe the road ... but over time these roads are going to deteriorate."

The vast bulk of Missouri's lettered state routes are expected to fall under the supplementary category, but so will some major traffic arteries in the St. Louis area. Those include U.S. 67/Lindbergh Boulevard, State Route 30/Gravois Road, State Route 340/Olive Street/Clarkson Road, State Route 94, State Route 109 and State Route K in St. Charles County.

A map showing the proposed primary highways in the St. Louis area can be found here, and a statewide map showing primary and supplementary routes, along with the locations of critical bridges, can be found here.

Nichols also told members of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission that issuing new bonds to cover transportation needs is not an option.

"At $325 million (a year), we don't believe that we're going to have enough coverage to be able to bond our way out of this problem," Nichols said.

The commission would have to approve the new plan, and it is expected to do so at a later date.

"I call it transportation triage," said Steve Miller, MHTC chair. "We are left to make tough choices, just as they do in an emergency room, about the most critical patients and the ones that need to be tended to first. This is not going to be business as usual."

Other maps and links detailing the proposed Missouri 325 System can be found here.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

Copyright 2015 St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis Public Radio State House Reporter Marshall Griffin is a native of Mississippi and proud alumnus of Ole Miss (welcome to the SEC, Mizzou!). He has been in radio for over 20 years, starting out as a deejay. His big break in news came when the first President Bush ordered the invasion of Panama in 1989. Marshall was working the graveyard shift at a rock station, and began ripping news bulletins off an old AP teletype and reading updates between songs. From there on, his radio career turned toward news reporting and anchoring. In 1999, he became the capital bureau chief for Florida's Radio Networks, and in 2003 he became News Director at WFSU-FM/Florida Public Radio. During his time in Tallahassee he covered seven legislative sessions, Governor Jeb Bush's administration, four hurricanes, the Terri Schiavo saga, and the 2000 presidential recount. Before coming to Missouri, he enjoyed a brief stint in the Blue Ridge Mountains, reporting and anchoring for WWNC-AM in Asheville, North Carolina. Marshall lives in Jefferson City with his wife, Julie, their dogs, Max and Liberty Belle, and their cat, Honey.