Commission Background

The Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission is a six-member board that guides the Missouri Department of Transportation. Commission members are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Missouri Senate. No more than three commission members may be of the same political party. The term on the commission is six years.

The Missouri Department of Transportation's director and secretary to the commission are appointed by the commission. All other appointments and hiring are done by the director, with the approval of the commission.


The State Highway Commission, being bipartisan, submits that a highway program should be considered without regard to political affiliation or to party politics. Likewise, the problem of improving our highway program is both urban and rural. The busiest thoroughfare in our largest metropolitan area leads to our most remote country road. The State Highway Commission submits that the road problem in Missouri is not one involving one political party as against the other, or involving one area or section of the state as against another, or involving metropolitan areas against rural areas. The highway problem is state-wide and involves all the people of Missouri (from March 14, 1961, meeting minutes).


The desire to get from one place to another has existed since people first set foot on the earth. The fascination with travel has prompted many transportation developments including horses, boats, bicycles, cars, trains, and airplanes. As transportation became more complex, the next logical step was for government to be involved. Highways in Missouri began to develop even before Missouri was officially welcomed into the Union in 1821. Early state Legislatures outlined highway networks that became the framework for the present-day highways Missourians have come to enjoy and rely on.

The Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission is the body responsible for planning for and maintaining the state's highway network and also has responsibilities in the other modes. The Centennial Road Law of 1921 is considered the beginning of the modern-day Highway and Transportation Commission. It is in recognition of the efforts of those past, present and future commissioners that this publication is dedicated.

The Mud Years

Prior to 1907, highway improvements were left entirely to the counties, who for the most part were without trained or experienced engineers. Nor was there any coordination of planning among the counties. With the introduction of the motor vehicle, highway transportation needs were not being met. It became evident that insurmountable road deficiencies were no longer curable at the county level.

In 1907, the state highway engineer was responsible to the Department of Agriculture, which was the state's first Highway Commission. In 1909, the 45th General Assembly passed a law providing for the creation of a "General State Road Fund" to which all monies accruing to the state from any general or special levy taxes for road purposes, including improvements or construction, were to be credited. This fund was to be apportioned and distributed to the several counties when such counties provided the necessary funds to pay for at least one-half of the cost of such road improvements or construction.

In 1913, the 47th General Assembly eliminated the Department of Agriculture's highway responsibilities by passing a law creating a State Highway Department. The law also mandated the governor to appoint a highway commissioner, and F. W. Buffum was named to the position. Buffum's duties were largely advisory, and his principal responsibility was to encourage counties to make road improvements. Buffum remained in office until the spring of 1917.

In 1917, more people were purchasing automobiles (almost 300,000 vehicles were operating on Missouri's highways, compared to more than four million in 1995) and thus the sentiment for better roads had reached top momentum. In the same year, the State Legislature passed the Hawes Road Law, which provided for a bipartisan Highway Board of four members. The members appointed under this law were E. L. Sanford, George. E. McIninch, S. S. Pingree and C. O. Raine. John M. Malang was appointed state highway superintendent and Alexander W. Graham was appointed highway engineer. The state was divided into six districts and a division engineer appointed for each district.

The Hawes Law also jump-started a surge in roadbuilding that culminated in approval of 122 projects, 61 of which were put under contract in 1917. By the end of that year, more than 11,000 miles were improved. The McCullough-Morgan law of 1919 created the position of state highway superintendent and made the position the ex-officio secretary to the highway board. The law also guaranteed each county in the state at least two state roads, including not less than 50 miles on which state and federal funds were to be spent.

The First Official State Highway Commission

In commemoration of Missouri's 100th year of statehood, the first bipartisan State Highway Commission was created by the "Centennial Road Law" in a special legislative session. This law shifted the focus of Missouri highway building from the local to the state level. On Dec. 1, 1921, Governor Arthur M. Hyde appointed Theodore Gary, chairman; S. S. Connett, vice chairman; Murray Carleton and C. D. Matthews as members. State Geologist H. A. Buehler was appointed as an ex-officio member.

The Centennial Road Law empowered the commission to locate, design, construct and maintain a "state highway system". This system was to include approximately 6,000 miles of secondary roads and 1,500 miles of primary roads. The commission was also authorized to:

Make the rules governing its own organization; Compile highway statistics; Prepare plans and make estimates Let all contracts; Prescribe uniform highway markings; and Purchase or lease land.

The Centennial Road Law gave the State Highway Commission the authority to "have supervision of highways and bridges which are constructed, improved, and maintained in whole or in part by the aid of state moneys, and of highways constructed in whole or in part by the aid of moneys appropriated by the United States government, so far as such supervision is consistent with the acts of Congress relating thereto." In addition it provided for the commission's appointment of the positions of commission secretary, chief engineer and chief counsel. This was an important law, and one that proved to be a solid foundation for Missouri's current modern highway system.

In the 1920's and '30's, the commission undertook an aggressive roadbuilding program that improved the state's highway system and "Got Missouri out of the mud." As the nation struggled with the Great Depression, the state's highway-building efforts slowed, but still made progress.

The Middle Years -- The 1940s through the 1970s

The United State's entry into World War II in 1942 presented new challenges for the Highway and Transportation Commission and the state. The normal peace-time economy was giving way to an all-out war effort that affected every business in every state of America. Materials were scarce, and the expenditure of every dollar required earnest consideration, foresight and careful planning.

The Takeover Program

The Missouri 10-Year Highway Modernization and Expansion Program, better known as the Takeover Program, began in 1952. The department's goal was to incorporate and upgrade 12,000 miles of additional roads to the state's supplementary or farm-to-market highway system. The state relieved the counties of maintenance costs of these roads, providing welcome relief to rural Missouri.

At the conclusion of this program, the department had met and even exceeded its goal of providing Missourians with a state-maintained road within at least 2 miles of more than 95 percent of all rural family units - a family unit being a farm home, school, church, cemetery or store.

Missouri - First in the Interstate System

On Aug. 2, 1956, Missouri became the first state in the nation to take bids and begin work on state highway improvements under provisions of the new Federal Aid Highway Program enacted by Congress late in June of that same year, the program that started the interstate highway system. Three highway construction projects worth over $5 million were undertaken by the department; one on U.S. Route 66 in Laclede County and the others on U.S. Route 40 in the city of St. Louis and in St. Charles County.

Outdoor Advertising

Congress initiated outdoor advertising legislation in 1965. At the June 10, 1965, commission meeting, the chief engineer reported that he attended a conference in Washington DC, called by the president of the United States, to discuss preservation of natural beauty along the nation's highways. Congress introduced four bills that year regarding beautification of the interstate and primary highway systems, including billboard removal and junkyard disposition. Compliance with national

government outdoor advertising laws became a major departmental effort over the next several years and is still a major effort today.

Commission Membership Increased

State law increased the Highway Commission membership from four to six in 1965. Bruce Ring, chief counsel for the commission between 1975-1986, recalls that "this bill, in its initial version, was very controversial because the amendment proposed requiring one commission member per each congressional district." The commission strongly opposed this version because it felt the entire state would not receive fair representation, so the version adding two commissioners was adopted.

Highway and Transportation Department Combined

Missouri voters passed Amendment 2 on Nov. 6, 1979, which combined the Missouri Highway Department with the Department of Transportation to form the Missouri Highways and Transportation Department on Jan. 1, 1980. This constitutional amendment gave the newly created Highway and Transportation Commission responsibilities in all state transportation programs and facilities.