JEFFERSON CITY - October 10, 2001
Many people sat in chairs situated in the main lobby of the state capitol today. But three seats remained empty - symbolizing the three people who died on Missouri roads every day in 2000.
More than 30 people gathered for the first "Put the brakes on fatalities day" today, a national event that seeks to prevent road fatalities.
"This is a new event, but an old goal - to lower the number of fatalities on the nation's highways," said Henry Hungerbeeler, director of Missouri's Department of Transportation.
Officials from MoDOT, Missouri Highway Patrol and Missouri Division of Highway Safety attended the event and stressed the importance of wearing seat belts, staying sober and respecting speed limits. Officials also touted new state laws that lowered the legal blood alcohol level from .10 to .08 and increased the penalties for people caught speeding in road work zones.
"It's already having an effect here in our state," Hungerbeeler said.
Matt Parker, a senior at Canton High, attended the event to discuss improving state roads. He founded a group called Students of Missouri Assisting Rural and Urban Transportation when his friend died on U.S. 61 last year.
"We need to improve the roads all the way across Missouri," Parker said.
Parker and other students have traveled throughout Missouri and visited Washington, D.C., to solicit financial support for Missouri's roads.
Nevertheless, financial issues remain at the forefront of Missouri's road problems.
"We want to keep our roads as safe as possible within our funding limits," Hungerbeeler said. "The public needs to understand that if they choose not to give us more funds they have unrealistic expectations about what we can accomplish."
Hungerbeeler discussed a recent state auditor's report that criticized MoDOT for not identifying standards for measuring progress in the implementation of its five-year plans. He said the audit results will make it harder for MoDOT to lobby for taxpayers' money.
"I understand that it makes it difficult for the public to trust us," he said. "But we are responsible stewards of their money."
Transportation Commission member Marge Schramm said that Hungerbeeler had proposed standards to the commission, but the commission did not vote on them before the audit was released.
"We haven't voted them down, we just haven't voted anything up yet," Schramm said. "It's just a question of bad timing."