State Capital Bureau
JEFFERSON CITY - The State Transportation Commission will consider a proposal to revamp the transportation planning process when the commission meets in St. Louis Thursday and Friday.
The Transportation Department proposal, which has been in the works for several months, focuses on strengthening the role of regional commissions in the planning process. MoDOT spokesman Jeff Briggs said the plan emphasizes existing roads and local participation.
Commissioner Duane Michie said it would be nice if regions would not quibble over funds, but equity of interests is not the main concern outlined in the plan.
"I don't think that's as important an issue as where things need to be repaired," Michie said.
Estil Fretwell, director of public affairs for the Missouri Farm Bureau, agreed that highway funds should be distributed to needy areas. He said he's confident that MoDOT can determine where those needs are greatest.
"They have the expertise and information on road conditions and traffic counts," Fretwell said. He advocated improvements in the decision-making process that would involve local interests, as long as that is "kept on a statewide perspective."
But the St. Louis Regional Commerce and Growth Association disagrees, saying that any of the options on the table would adversely affect the metropolitan area.
"We've had an agreed-upon method of allocation for some time," said Susan Stauder, vice president for infrastructure at the RCGA. "This is a discussion that doesn't have a lot of input from people outside MoDOT."
Garry Taylor, director of the Mid-Missouri Regional Planning Commission, said MoDOT's plan looks like a good idea because it makes the regions stronger and addresses funding distribution. He said his 39-member commission, which covers six counties including Boone County, has been pleased with MoDOT for seeking public input.
The city of Columbia is not included in the regional commission. It has its own planning organization, the Columbia Area Transportation Study Organization. Roy Dudark, director of planning for the city, said looking at the larger picture would be good for Columbia.
"One of the big issues in this is where the monies go statewide," said Dudark. He said regional competition for funds would be better for the state than allocating set amounts to each region.
"Even though another [funding] option might give [Columbia] a smaller guaranteed amount, it may not be enough to address a critical need," Dudark said. If funds were distributed to the regions with the greatest needs, he said, larger projects might be possible.
The State Transportation Commission is not likely to return a verdict on the plan until later in October, commissioners say.
Commissioner Bill McKenna said more regional input should be helpful, especially because many regional organizations include locally elected officials. But having more input doesn't fix root problems such as a budget crunch, he said.