State officials have been looking for ways to fix what is widely regarded as Missouri's broken transportation funding system.
A hearing before the Blue Ribbon Citizens Committee on Missouri's Transportation Needs is on Monday in Lee's Summit. The hearing, the last of seven and the only one in the Kansas City area, is at 10 a.m. in the Shenandoah Room at the Gamber Center at 4 S.E. Independence Ave. That's east of downtown and just west of Lee's Summit Cemetery, off Langsford Road.
Minutes of the first four meetings – the ones posted so far – reveal a pattern, as chambers of commerce, legislators, businesses and citizens offer their views on specific projects and the overall picture. That pattern could be characterized as: Roads, roads, roads. A word for airports and barges. Roads, roads, roads. Hey, tourism is important, and that means roads. Roads, roads, roads. Public transit. Hey, guys, farmers and businesses rely on good roads.
All of which is true. State highway funding continues to deteriorate, and MoDOT says it can barely keep up with maintaining the state's 33,000 miles of roads – more that Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa combined – so any new projects that might spur economic development have to wait.
And what's largely missing from this conversation? Rail - either to haul freight or move people. Well, one railroad official said his company appreciated this effort. A city official from St. Joseph said the city hopes one day Kansas City and Omaha will be linked by passenger rail service. I'll second that motion, and add that it's a no-brainer, considering Omaha's charms and the fact that a connection to Omaha puts you on Amtrak's California Zephyr, a Chicago-to-San Francisco route meaning access to Denver, Salt Lake City and Sacramento, and, nearer to home, five cities across southern Iowa.
Again, logical. But no one other than our friend in St. Joseph is really talking about it.
To be fair, MoDOT has been doing an extensive review of its longterm rail plan, both freight and passenger, but this more comprehensive Citizens Committee will have to wrestle with one of the state's most pressing issues: How to pay for highways given the understanding that maintaining the status quo will mean a deteriorating system.
Roberta Broecker, MoDOT's chief financial officer, put it to the commission this way: "We have a problem, and there's a rough road ahead."