When the Missouri legislature talks of transportation needs in our state, rest assured they are talking about Interstate 70 from St. Louis to Kansas City or they are talking about Interstate 44 which cuts from Springfield to St. Louis. In the minds of many of our legislators, these two routes are the only pressing transportation improvement needs in our great state.
As a proud native of the Missouri Bootheel, I take some offense with their priorities. But on a much more practical level, I fully understand why these two major transportation venues take top priority. That simply means that residents in our sometimes-forgotten region of the state must work overtime to get our needs addressed.
A Missouri legislative committee this week will consider hiring a $50,000 consultant to help advise the lawmakers on the best way to approach funding for improvements on I-70 and I-44. And in a bit of irony for our region of the state, we'll likely be asked to help fund these projects through some fashion of sales tax.
It's hard to argue that I-70 in particular should not be improved. Even though it may not directly impact our region, I-70 is critical to Missouri's future. We can want bridges and improvements to I-55 and Highway 60 until we're blue in the face but I-70 will always take priority over our regional needs.
The long-term approach is to expand both I-70 and I-44 into eight-lane highways of tomorrow with lanes specified for large trucks. It's a multi-billion dollar plan that will take years and years to complete. But I believe both of these improvements will gain traction in the next few years and will someday become a reality.
How do we pay for these mega-projects? Well you either approve a statewide sales tax or you adopt toll roads or some combination of the two. And once again, though it doesn't impact us directly, we'll surely be supportive of such an improvement.
We in this region have to accept some realities. We lack the population and the political clout that the urban centers have. That does not mean our projects - regardless of their size - will forever be ignored. Quite the contrary. But it does mean we have to unite in mass and speak with one strong voice. It means that all communities impacted by projects in this region must think as one. And then we must be persistent in voicing our needs to those who control the purse strings.
As single communities we have limited opportunities to have our voices heard. As united communities we have a much greater chance for success.
We'll never reach the point where we have the strength of the urban centers. But that does not diminish our needs nor our ability to have those needs addressed.