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Nixon Endorsement May Not Be Enough for MoDOT’s 10-Lane I-70 Proposal
Governor Jay Nixon
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon.
Credit:  Michael McClure

Despite having Gov. Jay Nixon’s endorsement, the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) proposal to use $200 million in federal stimulus money, probably the state’s entire allocation, to begin adding two truck-only lanes in each direction to Interstate-70 may not experience smooth sailing in Washington.

Ray LaHood, the Obama administration’s Secretary of Transportation, seemed to indicate otherwise in a recent interview with U.S. News & World Report:

“We’ve spent three decades building an interstate system. We’ve put almost all of our resources into the interstate system. This is a transformational president, and the department is following the president’s lead.

“People haven’t really been thinking about these things,” the former member of Congress continued. “They have been thinking about how to build roads, how to build interstates, how to build bridges.

“People are beginning to think differently about where they want to live, and how they want to be able to get around their communities.”

To make matters worse for the MoDOT I-70 widening proposal, LaHood has also expressed concern about the nation’s over-reliance on fossil fuels and catastrophic global warming.

To make matters worse still, Nixon’s endorsement has not been well-received by key members of the state’s congressional delegation because it conflicts with other urgent needs. There is also great concern about the environmental and safety impact of widening I-70 to 10 lanes, as articulated by the Missouri Sierra Club.

Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, a Kansas City Democrat, renewed his opposition to the I-70 truck-only lane additions, saying: “The Kansas City metropolitan region has put together a TIGER application that is forward thinking, and uses this one-time opportunity for funds to significantly improve the region’s transportation system.

“The state of Missouri is competing directly with our regional plan with its 30-mile I-70 truck-lane Autobahn experiment. Unlike Missouri’s plan, our regional plan will reduce the amount of cars and trucks on the road.

“We think that is ultimately what the U.S. Department of Transportation is looking for in a successful TIGER application. With an administration that is concentrating on investments that build partnerships, reduce our carbon output and develop green jobs, we think that our regional plan has a very good chance of being funded,” Cleaver said.

Sam Murphey, Nixon’s deputy press secretary, pointed out that, in addition to MoDOT’s I-70 plan, the governor had also endorsed two TIGER grant applications from the St. Louis area.

“Governor Nixon believes these TIGER grants are a key opportunity for Missouri to create good-paying jobs, improve our infrastructure and help move our economy forward.,”Murphey said. “The governor was pleased to issue a letter of support for every Missouri project that requested a statement from his office.”

However, as Jim Hubbard, deputy press secretary for U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, a St. Louis County Democrat, pointed out, total TIGER funding for all Missouri projects probably will not exceed $200 million, the cost of the MoDOT trucks-only proposal.

“Congressman Carnahan, as a member of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is a strong supporter of making investments in existingt roads and mass transit to improve safety for commuters and keep America moving<’ Hubbard said.

“Carnahan was pleased TIGER discretionary funding designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions was included in the Recovery Act because it will open up the door to many new innovative and cutting-edge transportation projects throughout the nation and Missouri.

“He is especially pleased that his former colleague, Secretary LaHood, has announced that the grants will be awarded ahead of schedule—early next year,” Hubbard concluded. “It’s important to Congressman Carnahan that the Recovery Act dollars are spent as quickly as possible so that hardworking Americans can be put to work.”

Finally, Shana Marchio, communications director for U.S. Sen. Kit Bond, whose staff was closely involved in the development of the $87 million Kansas City metropolitan TIGER grant application, said: “Senator Bond’s priority is ensuring Missourians’ tax dollars are sent back to the state to improve transportation infrastructure and he’s supporting the applications of local communities that have contacted his office.”

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Added: September 19, 2009. 01:20 PM CDT
What roads will MoDOT neglect?
Here are two of the many under-reported aspects of MoDOT's mis-guided truck-lane project:

1 - MoDOT would start with truck-only lanes on 30 miles of I-70 where traffic is lightest. They would double the capacity of I-70 where added capacity is needed least.

2 - Should MoDOT get $200 million in federal money for the first 30 miles they have committed to spend $40 million of state money on the project. That's money they don't have. What roads and bridges will MoDOT neglect while they spend that money on 30 miles of truck lanes to nowhere?

All in all, a bad idea.
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