The Missouri Department of Transportation has done what it can to free up money to make up for large backlogs in roadwork around the state. There’s also a major push to replace hundreds of the state’s worst bridges. The state issued bonds for some of that work and now has to make payments on that.

That pesky warning has come around again.

The Missouri Department of Transportation has done what it can to free up money to make up for large backlogs in roadwork around the state. There’s also a major push to replace hundreds of the state’s worst bridges. The state issued bonds for some of that work and now has to make payments on that.

And the day of reckoning draws closer. MoDOT’s construction budget has fallen by nearly half this year, to $662 million. Federal stimulus money is drying up, and other costs – such as those bonds – have to be dealt with. MoDOT has been cutting people and some services but still says it has to find tens of millions of dollars in more cuts in the years ahead.

Even so, the state might reach a point in four or five years at which it would have to begin turning away some federal money. Uncle Sam is generous – one dollar from the state to match every four from Washington – but MoDOT officials say they might not have enough even for that.

That could push the state back to where it was a decade or so ago, with roads so bad that we get national notoriety for them.

The warnings are not new. Construction funding enjoyed a brief spike and then crashed – “off a cliff” is the phrase we’ve heard for years – and now officials scramble to push a full-blown crisis off as far as they can. Still, times are tough, and although state leaders at various times have acknowledged the need for an adequate, long-term source of highway funding, elected leaders in Jefferson City are currently silent on the issue. It’s not a debate they can avoid forever.