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Thursday, Apr. 28, 2016

Community leaders talk transportation

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Missouri Transportation Alliance (MoTA) held one of their regional forums at the Barry County Courthouse in Cassville on Monday afternoon. Several civic and business leaders as well as transportation advocates attended the forum. In the photo above, Jewell Patek, MoTA education coordinator, explains the transportation funding challenges that face Missouri. Several community leaders from Monett were in attendance at the meeting, including Mark Nelson, who serves as MoTA's district chairman. [Times Photo by Lisa Schlichtman]
The state of Missouri's roads and bridges was the topic of a Missouri Transportation Alliance (MoTA) regional forum held in Cassville on Monday afternoon.

MoTA is a nonpartisan, citizen-led group of transportation stakeholders, business and labor organizations and community leaders who believe Missouri's transportation infrastructure is critical to citizen safety and job creation.

The purpose of Monday's meeting was to gather information from local community and transportation leaders and use that input to develop a long-range vision for road improvement funding priorities in Missouri Department of Transportation's District 7, which encompasses 11 counties in southwest Missouri.

A presentation by Jewell Patek, MoTA education coordinator, outlined road projects in the southwest district that have been identified for improvements in the coming years.

Some of the more immediate projects slated for improvement include the four-laning of Highway 60 from Monett to Republic and safety improvements along Highway 76 similar to ones that were completed on Highway 86. The proposed improvements on Highway 76 would include adding shoulders and rumble strips and improving the road's surface.

During the forum, it was noted that a project map created by MoTA did not correctly lay out local priorities for the Highway 37/60 Corridor. The four-laning of Highway 60 from Monett to Republic remains the top priority, but Barry County Presiding Commissioner Cherry Warren pointed out that the map indicated that four-laning of Highway 60 west of Monett had replaced the four-laning of Highway 37 as a priority, which he said was incorrect.

"The need on Highway 37 is greater than west on Highway 60," said Warren, who also serves as chairman of the 37/60 Corridor Coalition. "I am disappointed (to see this on the map) especially after all the work that was done by Congressman Blunt in getting funds earmarked for a (feasibility) study for Highway 37."

Dan Salisbury, MoDOT assistant district engineer for District 7 who was in attendance at Monday's meeting, agreed with Warren's assessment and said the map was in error.

"We've always looked at the 37/60 Corridor together," said Salisbury. "Early on we proposed that all of 37 and 60 would be four-laned and then we gave priority to 60 from Monett to Republic. The project on 37 from Monett to the Arkansas line would be our second priority."

MoTA has been working to create a $750 million annual transportation model that will lay out priorities for the next 10 years based on information gathered at regional forums like the one held in Cassville.

"None of these projects are guaranteed," said Patek. "We'll have our findings compiled by the end of the summer, and there is flexibility to add some projects."

Patek also addressed the fact that new money to complete these projects is nonexistent under the state's current funding mechanism for roads and bridges.

"Missouri has a big transportation system and a robust system we can be proud of," said Patek. "In many ways our system has gotten better, but we don't have any new funding. There is no simply no funding available for new projects."

Missouri has the fifth to seventh largest transportation system in the nation and the third or fourth lowest funding mechanism, according to Patek.

Patek said a one-cent general sales tax and a 22 to 25-cent gas tax or a blend of the two would be needed to finance $750 million in new projects each year in addition to the $600 to $650 million needed for maintenance annually.

"We will make our final recommendations and then possibly submit (the tax proposals) to voters statewide in early 2012," said Patek. "This will require high level consensus. We still have our work cut out for us."

Patek encouraged local community leaders and transport advocates to submit their project need lists to MoTA for consideration.

"The more specific information you can give on local projects the better," said Patek.

At the meeting, Cassville City Administrator Eugene Dilbeck asked Salisbury and Patek about widening the Highway 76 bridge in Cassville to relieve traffic bottlenecks and fixing highway culverts located along Troublesome Branch to alleviate flooding problems in downtown Cassville.

Patek said funding for those projects would be difficult to add to the state priority list, but he did encourage Cassville and other cities to consider partnering with MoDOT to fund those projects.

"That's a way to draw down some of the state dollars and move the project up on the list," said Patek. "Monett has been one community that's been successful at that."

Other community leaders who attended Monday's forum included: Barry County Southern Commissioner Wayne Hendrix; Barry County Clerk Gary Youngblood;

Barry County Collector Janice Varner; Cassville aldermen Terry Heinz and Bill Hill; Cassville Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Mindi Artherton; Monett Mayor Jim Orr; Monett Commissioner Jerry Dierker; Monett City Administrator Dennis Pyle; Monett Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Suzy McElmurry; and Mark Nelson, who serves as MoTA's district chairman.

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