Tuesday marks the first day of legislative bill pre-filing as 201 bills were for Missouri’s 2016 General Assembly Session. Legislators have between Dec 1 and the 60th legislative day of session, or March 7, 2016, to introduce bills for readings. Many of the proposed bills among those pre-filed today look to improve highway and road infrastructure to better support Missouri’s economy.
3rd District State Representative and former State Highway Safety Director Nate Walker submitted multiple bills for pre-filing, two of which are directed at improving safety on Missouri roads. House bill 1423, if passed, would prohibit texting while driving and House bill 1424, would make seatbelts mandatory. Rep. Walker said these bills will help improve safety among drivers and passengers but roadways must also be updated.
“We have a lot of roads, whether they be farm to market roads or whether they be interstate highways or roads in-between, we have roads that are in dire need of additional maintenance and improvements,” Walker said.
Interstate 70 (I-70), the main highway between St. Louis and Kansas City, has recently fallen under criticism as many site poor road conditions and heavy traffic as major flaws. Walker said these complaints are common and many have discussed expanding I-70.
“There is lots and lots of traffic and there is some pavement and other areas that need to be improved so there is a lot of discussion on making sure our interstate highways are safer and better,” he said. “There’s probably a good argument that most of interstate 70 should be 6 lanes.”
The Missouri Department of Transportation (MODOT) has dedicated tax payers money to looking for solutions to I-70’s many problems for years. Bob Brendel, special assignments coordinator for MODOT, has conducted multiple studies on I-70 and said a lack of funding is to blame for the lack of improvements.
“We have had a plan for 10 years to expand I-70, we know the need is there for additional capacity as well as reconstruction of the infrastructure that is already in place. The problem is not the desire to widen I-70, it’s the funding that is needed to make that happen.” he said.
Brendel said that if possible, MODOT would expand the 200 miles of interstate highway between Independence and Wentzville but the project could cost between 2 to 4 billion dollars.
“If there was a bill to provide the funding to do the project, we would be all for it,” he said.
MODOT, as part of the State of Missouri, is unable to raise or collect money therefore the only way to create funding is through legislative action. Walker believes transportation funding and road expansions will be a heavily discussed topic in the upcoming 2016 legislative sessions.
“I think we need to take a hard look at [transportation funding] because the infrastructure needs of the state are very important and having good safe roads saves lives and has a big economic benefit to the whole state,” Walker said.