SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — On the northwest side of Springfield lies the Transportation Management Center, a high-tech hub where local, state, and even federal officials can monitor high intensity traffic all across southwest Missouri.
The hub served as a backdrop for a visit by U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D., as she renewed her call for greater state and federal attention to the issue of roads and bridges.
“We are in the top 10 list for structurally deficient bridges,” McCaskill told reporters, noting that in Missouri, some 5 million passengers cross these bridges throughout the region and the state daily. “We are looking at a crisis.”
According to the 2013 study by the American Society of Civil Engineers, more than 3,500 of the state’s 24,334 bridges are deemed “structurally deficient,” while nearly 3,540 of them are considered “functionally obsolete.” McCaskill said it was time for the government — which she believes is rightfully responsible for a transportation infrastructure system — to act.
McCaskill was critical of the Missouri General Assembly for opposing Jefferson City Republican state Sen. Mike Kehoe’s proposal which would have raised more than $800 million through sales taxes over the next decade to fund Missouri infrastructure improvements, including I-70 — which stretches across mid-Missouri from Kansas City to St. Louis.
What stopped Kehoe’s proposal? “Republicans who think that it is okay for us to be ‘cellar dwellers’ when it comes to investing in infrastructure,” McCaskill said. She added that that she has spoken with various interest groups across the state including the Missouri Department of Transportation that have presented “a long list of desperate needs in every community in this state.”
“Everybody understands that we cannot maintain 33,000 miles of roads and highways in this state with a construction budget of $600 million a year,” cut in half over the last few years due to a bond running out and stimulus funds drying up, she said. “That is a recipe for disaster.”
McCaskill said Republicans in Jefferson City were “perfectly comfortable” with “leaving us in the cellar when it comes to maintaining our roads and bridges,” and urged them to readdress the issue next year. If not, she said she would be supportive of an initiative petition and ballot language to fund infrastructure improvements.
Kehoe’s bill, despite its opposition from House Speaker Tim Jones, was brought up in the House during the final week of legislative session this year. It passed, but was not brought back up in the Senate because of a threat of filibuster by the body’s most conservative members.
McCaskill also announced that she would be teaming up with Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman on legislation that would seek to streamline the permitting process for larger infrastructure projects. The bill would aim to allow projects over $25 million to move faster “from the drawing board” to “digging dirt,” McCaskill said.