JEFFERSON CITY, MO - During harvest season, a farmer near LaPlata, Mo. will make about 200 trips from his farm to the grain elevator about 25 miles away in Novelty, Mo. He's transporting corn and soybeans during those trips on Route 156, a rural, state-maintained highway in northeast Missouri.
Livestock operations use rural routes to haul animals to markets, milk to dairies, and hay to ranchers. Equipment used on these farms can range from 80,000-lb. tractor-trailers and 40-ft. wide combines to horse-drawn Amish buggies and bicycles. Agricultural industries aren't the only businesses that rely on these routes, either. They are heavily used by rock quarries and loggers as well.
For the farmers, business owners, students and other residents who rely on rural roads like Route 156 every day, a smooth, safe ride is just as important for them as it is for anyone else in the state.
That's the perspective Andrea "Andy" Jackson shared when she spoke at the April meeting of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission. Jackson appeared before the Commission to remind them that rural roads are important, too.
"Tractors, tillage machinery, grain buggies and agriculture equipment travel these roads, moving from farm to farm, as crop production is a vital part of our community," said Jackson. "They might not have thousands of people driving on them every day, but these rural roads play an important role in the state's agricultural industry and in the lives of the people who live here."
When the Missouri Department of Transportation's construction budget drops to $325 million in 2017, Route 156 becomes one of the state's 26,000 miles of "supplementary" routes. That means it won't see any roadwork other than routine maintenance. Over time, its condition will deteriorate.
At the same Commission meeting, Brian Reagan, MoDOT's transportation systems analysis engineer, explained that MoDOT has historically spent $160 million per year on contract work on the state's supplementary system of roads and bridges. That's the kind of road work that keeps Missouri's state highways in good condition.
"Currently 73 percent of those supplementary highways are in good condition," said Reagan. "Once Missouri's 325 System is in place, that percentage will flip. In 10 years, we estimate just 27 percent of the supplementary roads in good condition."
Unfortunately, that neglect comes at a cost. After 10 years of deterioration, restoring those routes to their current condition will cost $2.8 billion, or a billion dollars more than if steady maintenance as continued year by year. In the meantime, there's a cost to the people who use them, too.
"Consider what happens when a bridge gets so bad that it is load-posted or closed," said Reagan. "A 20- or 30-mile detour costs time and money for every farmer and rancher that has to make that trip, and that's an economic hit for Missouri."
Transportation - whether it's the rural roads across northern Missouri, or the busy highways and transit systems of urban Kansas City and St. Louis - is an essential part of daily life. As funding for transportation continues to decrease, all Missouri communities, large and small, will feel the impact of a transportation system that no longer meets their needs.
Missouri's 325 System is MoDOT's plan to focus its limited resources on approximately 8,000 miles of Missouri's 34,000-mile highway system. The department will use its annual construction budget to keep those 8,000 miles of "primary" routes in the good condition they are in today. The Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission approved Missouri's 325 System in February 2015. Learn more about transportation funding and Missouri's 325 System at www.modot.org/325report.