Settling in as new director, Patrick McKenna is charged with maintaining a 34,000-mile highway system on a faltering budget.
2016 Projection Annual revenue will be flat from a better-than-expected 2015 and enough to match federal funding for a 4-1 return on investment.
SBJ: What does MoDOT funding look like?
Patrick McKenna: One of the issues that we’ve had for several years now throughout the country is the instability of federal funding without a long-term transportation bill. With the passage of the (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation) Act that provides a five-year funding certainty, that’s movement in the right direction. On the state level, there are a couple prefiled bills out there. One would increase the gas tax 1.5 cents for regular and 3.5 cents for diesel. We believe that will generate approximately $78-$80 million worth of revenue, and after the revenue share that occurs with counties and communities it would generate about $55 million net for MoDOT to use – hopefully – in what we expect would be an expanded bridge program. That’s one-tenth of the revenue of what had been proposed a couple of years ago with Amendment 7. That’s not a full list of what we want to get to, but instead of hitting a home run we might be trying to hit some singles here to make some progress.
SBJ: What are the high-priority projects?
McKenna: Interstate 70 was one of the first interstate projects in the country so that also means it’s now one of the oldest. There is a real need to bring it back down to the farmland below it and rebuild from the bottom up. A lot of the aggregate below that is well beyond its useful life. It was designed as a 50-year road, and we’re well beyond that.
We have 641 critical condition bridges with structural deficiencies and about 100 new bridges come on to the critical condition list every year. So our traditional level of funding that we’ve had for a number of years now has really only been enough to not quite keep our head above water.
SBJ: Could I-70 be set up as a toll road?
McKenna: We need to look at that as one element of a plan that might enable us to reconstruct that roadway in a timely fashion. Our traditional sources of revenue are nowhere near what is needed to do true justice in improving our interstate system. The state has permission from the Federal Highway Administration to do the tolling of I-70. It doesn’t have state authorization to do so – it would require legislative action – and there’s a time limitation on that federal authorization.
SBJ: In January 2015, the state launched the 325 System to maintain only 8,000 miles of Missouri’s 34,000-mile highway system based on a construction budget of $325 million by 2017. Where does that stand now?
McKenna: Our planning of new projects from 2016 going out to 2020 is very low. That’s a troubling sign for the condition of the infrastructure and for our partners in the construction industry. We’re trying our best to move away from that 325 System to the extent we can, and that will require commission approval. They’ve already taken some preliminary steps toward that by recognizing some of the upticks in revenue that have occurred primarily because of the low price in fuel right now. This past year revenue came in slightly higher than projected – about $47 million above projection from the original budget for 2015 – and the commission authorized that money to be put out into projects on the roadway. We have a pipeline of projects to utilize that revenue and match those federal funds. That ends up being a set of about $200 million worth of work.
SBJ: What technologies might shape the future in transportation?
McKenna: There are opportunities for people looking to commercialize products on the roadway – send advertising into the vehicles. What’s very exciting is the potential for safety improvements with some of the things that are going on with autonomous vehicles. Some of the ideas involve moving freight in a more efficient manner where Bluetooth technology could help trucks platoon closer together to help them save fuel, reduce costs and speed their products to market.
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