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Road Construction Tops Ring Counties' Wish Lists

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Three St. Louis area counties would focus on road and highway construction if a 0.75 percent transportation sales tax increase passes later this summer. 

This week, four area counties plus St. Louis turned in their preliminary lists of projects that could be funded over a 10-year period with the transportation tax. They're working with East-West Gateway to formulate a list of projects to send to the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission.

St. Louis and St. Louis County released their preliminary lists on Monday. And today, St. Louis Public Radio received the lists that St. Charles, Jefferson and Franklin Counties turned into East-West Gateway this week.

Those three counties’ lists are almost exclusively focused on road construction. In fact, nearly $423 million out of the roughly $432 million worth of projects requested would go toward bolstering roads or highways. That's in contrast to St. Louis' list, which includes numerous pedestrian, public transit and bike lane projects.

St. Charles County’s $279 million worth of project requests — which can be found here — includes significant road and highway projects. That includes:

  • $85 million to improve capacity on Route N between Interstate 64 and Route Z.
  • $113 million worth of work for several projects along Interstate 70.
  • $15 million for outer road construction between Mid Rivers Mall Drive and Motherhead Road. This would also fund the construction of ramps at Motherhead Road to provide access to and from Route 364.
  • $20 million for improvements along I-64, specifically to add a lane in each direction from Route 364 to I-70.

A spokeswoman for St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann said he would withhold comment until after a June 9 public hearing on the project list. A revised list of projects will be available that day at the 7 p.m. meeting in the Council Chambers of the St. Charles County Executive Office Building.
"St. Charles County had to submit a preliminary project list to the East-West Gateway Council of Governments (EWG) by 5 p.m. on May 30," the release said. "After submitting the required preliminary list, St. Charles County was notified on June 2 that MoDOT requested a revision."

Jefferson County’s $100 million worth of project requests also focuses primarily on roads and highways.That includes about $64 million to improve Interstate 55 between Route Z and McNutt, as well as about $20.5 million to make safety improvements along roads within the county. It also includes about $7 million for improvements for the Jefferson County Port.

Jefferson County Executive Ken Waller said that he wanted to focus on projects that improved safety, adding that his county's roads had “bad mortality numbers.” He also wanted make sure I-55 would continue to be a force for economic development.

“Obviously, our biggest thoroughfare throughout the county is Interstate 55, so there was a good amount of money that was designated for improvements,” Waller said. “We wanted to make sure and make as many corridor improvements as we could in those areas.”

Franklin County’s biggest request was $40 million worth of work on Highway 47, which stretches from St. Clair to Washington. Franklin County Presiding Commissioner John Greisheimer said that two-lane road features “horrendous” traffic backups that need immediate attention.

“Although the whole project cannot be completed until the following 10 years, at least some major upgrades can be completed,” Greisheimer said. “There’s an awful lot of traffic that goes on from St. Clair/I-44 and beyond. We’ve needed to have that section upgraded for many, many years. It’s just gotten to the breaking point.”

East-West Gateway’s board will finalize a list of projects to send to the transportation commission on June 25. The commission will sign off on a project list for the whole state on June 26.

Different takes

Greisheimer and Waller, both Republicans, had different takes on the transportation tax, which will go up for a public vote across the state in August. 

Greisheimer — a former member of the Missouri House and Senate — is a strong supporter of the sales tax proposal. He added that the state “cannot afford to let MoDOT go down the tubes.”

“If the funding drops to the levels of what they anticipate, MoDOT’s in deep trouble,” Greisheimer said. “And our highways are going to be … not only not improved, but they’re not going to be able to be maintained.”

But Waller said he was more focused on getting his county’s half-cent roads tax renewed. He added he was “non-committal” on the statewide sales tax increase because “we have a $10 million tax that we’ve had for 30 years in our county that needs to get renewed.”

“My focus is going to be on strictly on the county issue of getting our road tax passed,” Waller said.

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay came out for the tax Monday. St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley has said passing the measure “isn’t a priority” for his administration.

Other major political figures are split on the issue. The measure has support from some Republican lawmakers and Democrats aligned with organized labor. But it’s also drawn opposition from conservative Republicans and prominent Democrats such as Gov. Jay Nixon.

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.