In July, we wrote about how higher-than-expected revenues for the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) meant the state would be able to match federal dollars for next year. As we have pointed out many times before, the inability to match federal dollars is the main threat to MoDOT’s financial ability to maintain the state highway system. Before that improvement, the state had threatened to implement the “325 System,” which would have allowed most of Missouri’s highways, including some heavily trafficked ones, to fall into a state of disrepair. So Missourians are left asking whether the “funding crisis” is still a crisis and whether the 325 System is dead or alive.
And there seems to be some confusion coming out of MoDOT and the State Highway Commission on this very point. In September, Steve Miller, chairman of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission, told the Post-Dispatch that “The state is no longer using the ‘Missouri’s 325 System,’ ” but that the system’s priorities remain the same. He has also stated publically that without increased funding, Missouri’s highways still faced a funding crisis. What’s more, MoDOT still has not altered or taken down the “Tough Choices Ahead,” section of its website, which outlines the 325 System.
However, other MoDOT statements point to a more permanent postponement of the “325 System.” At a meeting held by the Show-Me Institute, MoDOT’s interim director stated that the department no longer talks of the “325 System,” and that the state is no longer in danger of losing federal dollars. Aside from the welcome boost in state income, MoDOT has also worked with the federal government to expand federal funding for preventative maintenance and operations on highways. With MoDOT now able to claim a federal match for “striping, sign maintenance, pavement repair where full width patching or overlays are placed, pavement surface treatments or surface seals, bridge maintenance, and drainage maintenance,” the state has more money to spend on highway projects and will be able to maintain state highways in the near term.
The bottom line is that MoDOT now possibly has the funds necessary to maintain the entire state highway system, without an increase in revenue. While the “325 System” still exists on paper, its implementation is increasingly unlikely. If that’s the case, MoDOT officials should come out and say that, rather than continue to talk of imminent budgetary disaster.
Of course, a reprieve from a funding crisis does not mean all of MoDOT’s problems are solved; there are necessary major highway projects MoDOT does not have the money to take on. But if MoDOT and Missouri have the breathing space necessary to discuss sustainable funding reforms for MoDOT without cries that the sky is falling, that’s for the better.