Statement of Tom Boland, Chairman
Missouri Highway and Transportation Commission
Hannibal, Missouri
ISTEA Reauthorization
March 26, 1997

Good afternoon, Senator Chafee, Senator Warner, and Senator Bond. I am Tom Boland, Chairman of the Missouri Highway and Transportation Commission. We thank you for coming to Missouri to give us this opportunity to speak about issues important in Missouri and the reauthorization of the nation's Federal transportation law.

You have a dedicated, hard-working colleague in Senator Bond. He does an excellent job in carrying forward the interests of Missouri and the nation. Thank you, Senator Bond, for your excellent work.

My topic today is the safety of our highways and bridges. Senator Bond has been absolutely instrumental in helping to solve some of those most pressing safety problems. His relentless efforts in Washington helped secure funds that allowed us to start replacing three of our most decrepit major river bridges, the Chouteau bridge across the Missouri River here in Kansas City and the Hannibal and Cape Girardeau bridges across the Mississippi River.

In Missouri, we can demonstrate the need for increased Federal funding to improve the safety of our highways and bridges all too well. Let me take you on a short tour down the Missouri and the Mississippi Rivers. The Missouri enters the State at our far northwest corner, goes southward to Kansas City and then crosses the entire State and joins the Mississippi at St. Louis. The Mississippi River forms the entire eastern boundary of Missouri.

More than 40 bridges on the State and Federal highway system cross these two rivers in Missouri. Half are more than 50 years old. More than half of these bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete when evaluated by Federal criteria. They are too narrow or have severe weight restrictions, or both, that prevent commercial vehicle use and obstruct the economic vitality of many of our communities.

Missouri needs major replacement bridges at Hermann, Washington, Waverly, Miami, Rulo, Lexington, and across the St. Francis River into Arkansas, just to name a few, and we need some new bridges, including one across the Des Moines River at St. Francisville to serve the Avenue of the Saints and to cross the Mississippi River at St. Louis.

These old, narrow brings are used by tens of thousands of Missourians every day who would prefer to travel on up-to-date, wider structures. They wonder why these old bridges are safe. Now, we inspect all these bridges at least once a year to ensure that they are safe and they are repaired as needed. But the best solution for serving our citizens is modern bridges.

These major river bridges are extremely expensive. It's virtually impossible to pay for them from the state's annual allotment of funds, particularly when there is a need for earthquake protection and retrofitting that faces us along the Mississippi from St. Louis south to the Arkansas border. Similar needs in other states simply magnify this urgent Missouri problem.

We cannot overestimate the safety aspects of these bridge needs. I strongly urge the committee to include a sizable and discretionary bridge fund in the reauthorization legislation to help states meet this urgent safety need. A bridge discretionary fund of as much as $800 million per year is absolutely justified which would allow the states to get bridge funds quickly to replace high-cost structures.

I have focused on the bridges crossing our two major rivers. The task at hand becomes even more daunting when you consider we have an additional 2,700 bridges in Missouri that cross lesser rivers or lakes that also need replacement. We are barely making a dent in these bridge needs under today's funding levels.

The issue of safety, of course, relates to all of our highways as well as our bridges. One of the most rapidly-growing areas in our State is south of St. Louis in Jefferson County. We have replaced portions of a winding, narrow two-lane Route 21 that serves the area with a four-lane highway, and as a result, there's been a significant and gratifying drop in the accident rate. We need to continue this work southward on Route 21 where the fatality rate is nearly 35 percent higher than the State average for similar highways.

You have already heard the compelling statements from Mrs. Winkler on behalf of the need to improve Route 63 in north Missouri where traffic is heavy and accidents are much too frequent. Driver frustration sets in. Unnecessary chances are taken, and tragedy occurs. This is a stretch of highway where fatality rates are more than 50 percent above the national average.

The same situation exists on Route 7 and 13 in west central Missouri, and on portions of Route 36, a major northern route across the State between Hannibal and St. Joseph and Route 60 across southern, Missouri from Cape Girardeau to Springfield.

These highways are carrying traffic that exceeds their two-lane design. We desperately need funds to correct and construct four lanes which will greatly improve their safe use. And these are merely examples and certainly do not represent an exhaustive list of the many highways and bridge safety needs in Missouri.

Please understand that we fully recognize that all of you are working hard on legislation that would increase Federal highway and bridge funds available to the states. We are extremely grateful for your continuing efforts, and I hope my thoughts today simply reaffirm this goal. And let me again thank you very much for coming to Missouri to give us this opportunity to express our thoughts to you.