Infrastructure investments have helped Missouri move forward
By Governor Mike Parson
When I became Missouri’s 57th governor on June 1, 2018, my administration and I quickly made it known that we planned to focus on infrastructure and workforce development to move the state forward. At the time, we noted that these were the right priorities to ensure our state thrives now and into the future. As part of our plan, we went to work on strategies that improve Missouri’s transportation infrastructure, recognizing that these types of investments have a direct impact on economic and workforce development. We also pledged to work to provide expanded broadband access to rural communities.
Bridges and Bonding: A Ripple Effect
Given the fact that the Show-Me State has the seventh largest transportation system in the nation, but ranks 48 in revenue per mile, we recognized the need to develop a plan for generating additional funding for the state’s roads and bridges. We took a bold stance by openly supporting a November 2018 ballot proposition that would have incrementally increased the state’s fuel tax, one of the lowest in the nation and one of the primary funding mechanisms for state road and bridge improvements, by 10 cents over four years.
When Missouri voters defeated that effort, my administration challenged the Missouri Department of Transportation to think outside the box to develop unique strategies for transportation investment that Missourians could support. As a result, we put forth a legislative proposal in January 2019 to repair or replace hundreds of the state’s worst bridges.
With a great deal of collaborative effort among legislators and the governor’s office during the 2019 legislative session, Missouri lawmakers ultimately approved $301 million in bonding revenue to repair or replace 215 bridges, contingent upon MoDOT receiving collateral funding in the form of a federal Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant. In addition, the legislature included $50 million in general revenue in the fiscal year 2020 state budget to repair or replace 45 bridges throughout the state and $50 million for a transportation cost-share program.
Last July, Missouri was awarded $81.2 million in INFRA funds to go toward replacing the Interstate 70 Missouri River Bridge at Rocheport and constructing I-70 climbing lanes at Mineola Hill in Montgomery County, two significant improvements to the I-70 freight corridor.
Focus on Bridges
The INFRA grant award initiated the $301 million bonding program to fund the bridge repair and replacement program now known as the Focus on Bridges program. This also freed up $301 million in the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program for new transportation improvement projects.
As of the end of July, 23 of the Focus on Bridges have been completed, 63 are under construction and 118 are under contract. Another 26 are scheduled to be under contract by the end of the year. Planning for the new Rocheport Bridge is also underway, and work on the climbing lanes at Mineola Hill started this July.
Recovering Flood-Damaged Infrastructure
While much progress has been made in improving the state’s infrastructure through bridge building and bonding, Missouri did experience some infrastructure setbacks last year when record flooding hit the state.
To help establish a path forward and refocus the state’s flood control priorities, we created a Flood Recovery Advisory Working Group, led by the departments of Natural Resources and Agriculture, to provide input on the state’s short-, medium- and long-term flood recovery priorities. The group was asked to identify areas where attention is needed and provide input on priorities for allocation of state funding for flood recovery. The members heard information about impacts to infrastructure and discussed actions that could be taken to provide better flood protection and resiliency in the future.
Currently, the state has identified improvement projects for three roadways in Northwest Missouri that repeatedly flood. The projects, which are currently under review by the Federal Highway Administration, will help increase the highways’ resiliency to future flooding, minimizing the time they are closed to traffic. MoDOT will continue to examine opportunities for these types of improvement projects where feasible and when funding allows.
Broadband Infrastructure Expansion
The FY20 Missouri State Budget included a $5 million dollar appropriation for the Missouri Broadband Grant Program, which launched in early November 2019 and received 40 applications from broadband providers. In April 2020, 16 broadband projects were announced as recipients of just over $3 million in grant support providing more than 4,400 connections. The projects should all be finalized by November 2020. The Missouri legislature recently passed House Bill 1768 extending the sunset of this program until 2027.
Additionally, in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency, my administration and I directed nearly $50 million from the Coronavirus Relief Fund to support broadband expansion. This expansion included several initiatives such as emergency broadband investment, telehealth, libraries, K-12 distance learning, and higher education distance learning. The state has sought assistance from a key partner, the Missouri Association of Councils of Government, in applying for an Economic Development Administration grant. This grant would help provide broadband technical assistance for approximately 20% of Missouri counties impacted by the public health emergency that experience relatively low or no internet service.
Mike Parson is the 57th governor of the state of Missouri. He came into the role with over 30 years of experience in public service.