Few county roads will get state maintenance under MoDOT cut back

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Most state highways in Oregon County will apparently get little attention under a Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) plan to drastically reduce the amount of work it will do on roads in the state. Because a proposed sales tax to help make up for declining transportation dollars was rejected by voters last year, the Missouri Highway and Transportation Commission has agreed with MoDOT's proposal to focus its limited resources on only 8,000 of the nearly 34,000 roads statewide.

"This action truly sets the stage to transform Missouri's transportation system and dramatically change the way we do business," said Commission Chair Stephen Miller. "After years of making great progress on the condition of Missouri's highways, we now face a future of watching our roads and bridges deteriorate."

The South Missourian News spoke to Matt Seiler, the Assistant District Engineer for the Southeastern District which oversees Oregon County, about the new plan and its impact on our roads and bridges.

"Unfortunately, we've been headed in this direction for several years," said Seiler, alluding to the cuts in funding and the reduction of services.

Like many rural counties in Missouri, Oregon County will be hardest hit by the cuts. Seiler explained that the 8,000 miles of road the state will be put its primary focus on will be roads that connect cities of 1,000 or more, along with primary routes otherwise designated by MoDOT. Highway 63 between West Plains and Thayer is on the list for continued maintenance, as is the section of Highway 160 between Alton and West Plains. But, according to Seiler, every other state road in the county is not included on the primary road list and will be subject to severe cuts in service and repair.

"We are strictly going to be in repair mode, even on the primary routes that are designated," said Seiler, although he added highway projects underway or previously approved will be completed.

"The roads that aren't on the primary system are going to deteriorate, and some of them are going to be a rough ride," he continued, stressing that each state shed will do it's very best to cover emergency situations on the secondary roads, but overall maintenance and repair will be severely limited.

"We've always taken a lot of pride in the work that we do and in how we keep the roads in good condition. This plan is going to make it difficult for us to maintain that level of service, and we understand that we will get many questions and concerns. Our employees are your neighbors and friends, and nobody wanted to see things get to this point," Seiler said.

Seiler said that the tax hike rejected by voters last August hurt the agency's ability to stay at full maintenance levels, but the current economic crisis is the result of several different factors. The gas tax has not been changed in almost 20 years and less is being collected because vehicles are more fuel efficient. Rules and regulations on how the collection of gas taxes are distributed has further hurt the transportation department, and without action, the mounting fiscal crisis threatens to bankrupt the agency.

"With our projections on gas tax revenue and spending, it's going to reach a point where we aren't going to have enough money to cover even basic services," said Seiler, stressing that action needs to be taken by the legislature to solve the dilemma.

"Missouri has the seventh largest highway system in the nation, but we rank 46th in revenue per mile," said MoDOT Director Dave Nichols in an agency news release. "This plan prioritizes what we do with that shrinking revenue, but the only way to truly change Missouri's status is to find a long term funding solution."

When asked about potential job cuts and state shed closings, Seiler said that the state has already cut the department down to what he described as a bare minimum.

"We can no longer reduce staff or shut down sheds and maintain an adequate ability to service the roads," he said "Many counties have already been reduced to one functioning shed, and this has already impaired our ability to cover such a large area."

Citizens interested in learning more about the road maintenance cutbacks can visit the MoDOT website www.modot.org/toughchoicesahead.

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