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MoDOT loses $10.4 million because of open-containers.

September 30, 2002
By: Jason McLure
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri's roads have lost $10.4 million in federal highway construction funds because of the legislature's failure to put the lid on open-container legislation by today's deadline.

Federal guidelines require the money be used for public safety projects instead.

Sen. Morris Westfall, D-Halfway, sponsored open-container legislation each of the past two years, only to see it fail in the Senate. Westfall said Missouri needs the law not only to meet federal standards, but also as a matter of safety.

Under the federal government's 1997 Transportation Equity Act, states are required to meet guidelines for DUI, repeat offender and open alcohol container laws or face the loss of construction monies.

Missouri is in compliance with the first two standards, but continues to lose construction funds because of its tolerance of open containers.

As of July, 2001, 30 states have passed open-container laws in compliance with the regulations.

In Missouri drivers are prohibited from having an open container, but passengers are not.

Westfall said this makes the law unenforceable.

"By the time you get them stopped, they've handed [their drink] to a passenger," he said.

Westfall said he understands that people may want to celebrate after a football game or concert, but adds "if you want a party atmosphere, it doesn't need to be in your car."

Last year MoDOT lost $5.2 million in federal construction funds. Instead, the money was spent on a DUI-tracking system and on highway hazard reduction programs such as fixing dangerous intersections.

Jay Wunderlich, a spokesman for MoDOT, said the loss of funds would lead to direct cuts in the highway budget because the agency does not have the discretion to make up for the lost money from other sources.