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“Connected 2045” sets priorities for countywide transportation projects

Barrel BobThe good news is that the St. Louis region’s newly updated long-range transportation plan includes a number of priority future transportation projects for St. Charles County that may increase the ability of people and commerce to move around the area.

The bad news is that unless the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) gets more money to pay for building them, most if not all of these transportation projects may not become reality.

The plan, called “Connected 2045,” was passed unanimously last month by the East-West Gateway Council of Governments Board of Directors. The regional planning agency is a clearinghouse for federal funding and its board includes the region’s chief elected officials in Missouri and Illinois.

Connected 2045 is not set in stone and is updated every four years, but it does provide a road map of sorts.

County Executive Steve Ehlmann said projects can change along with priorities or opportunities. For example, if federal money becomes available for repairs on older highways, projects fitting that description can be moved up, Ehlmann said. But if a project isn’t in the plan, it cannot be considered.

“If all of a sudden some money becomes available (for a project), if we don’t have it on the list we can’t even talk about it,” Ehlmann said.

The projects are included in annual state and regional transportation improvement plans (TIPs) that set priorities for allocating state and federal money needed to build them.

Projects in St. Charles County listed as “priorities” in the 2016-2025 period include:

• Rehabbing pavement, improving interchanges and adding lanes to I-70 from Hwy. 94 to I-370 at an estimated cost of $30 million

• Building two phases of the David Hoekel Parkway in Wentzville from Peine Road to Hwy. P and Interstate Drive to Meyer Road at an estimated cost of $54 million.

During the 2026-2035 period, other projects on the list include:

• More rehabilitation of pavement and adding new lanes to I-70 from Highway 94 to I-370 at an estimated cost of $100 million.

• Adding a lane in each direction on I-64 from Hwy. K to I-70 at an estimated cost of $54 million.

The plan also recommends corridor studies on I-70 through St. Louis and St. Charles counties, along Hwy. N from I-64 to Jackson Road, on Hwy. 79 and Hwy. 94. Corridor studies look at transportation needs and are used to develop major transportation improvements along these routes.

Other projects included in the plan that could be pursued if money becomes available include:

• Adding capacity and improving interchanges on I-70 from I-64 to highways T and W.

• Eliminating at-grade crossings, building new interchanges and connecting outer roads on Hwy. 61 from where it becomes I-64 to Lincoln County.

Whether a road improvement becomes something more than part of a list depends on money being available.

State and federal fuel taxes provide the bulk of revenue for transportation projects in Missouri. However, the state’s 17-cent gasoline tax remains one of the lowest in the nation and hasn’t been raised since 1992. State voters rejected a transportation sales tax increase proposal last August and a two-cent increase didn’t make it out of this year’s legislative session.

MoDOT outlined a plan to cut back construction and use funding starting in September 2017 for maintenance of existing roads. Lack of funding may mean MoDOT cannot meet federal matching requirements to obtain federal highway dollars, which often pay as much as 80 percent of major highway projects.

Passing a sales tax increase is expected to be a major issue when the legislature reconvenes, but MoDOT officials and Ehlmann said two cents may represent a band-aid.

“It kind of keeps us limping along,” Ehlmann said. “It’s not going to do anything as far as I-70 and those larger projects are concerned.”

He said MoDOT finds itself in a situation where more fuel-efficient vehicles actually have cut back on gasoline being used at a time when the cost of construction materials have risen, which has changed the department’s funding projections.

“They don’t want more money. They just want the amount of money they thought they were going to have 10 or 20 years ago,” he said.

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