Transportation Planner Meeting November 24, 2020 Teleconference

MoDOT Update – deputy director/chief engineer Ed Hassinger

2022-2026 STIP Moving Forward

  • MoDOT’s Eric Curtit announced work has begun on the 2022-2026 STIP. MoDOT’s financial department is beginning work on budget projections with MoDOT planning on looking at district project targets in January.
  • He reminded participants of the upcoming annual statewide transportation planners meeting that will be held virtually on February 10th. Because it will be held virtually, attendance is expected to be opened up to TAC members that would like to attend. Look for more information next month.

Financial Update

  • Deputy Director Ed Hassinger said financial projections are beginning to settle in on the number of a 10% reduction in fuel tax dollars as a result of COVID-19.
  • Because state sales tax collections on vehicle sales as well as licensing fees had experienced an increase over the same timeframe, the budget impact was minimal.
  • However, he noted that recent data has indicated the sales tax surge is beginning to tail off, leaving planners to contemplate if traffic numbers will rebound or if the transition to more people working from home will result in a more permanent traffic volume decline.

COVID-19

  • Concerns still exist regarding the potential for interruptions of MoDOT’s winter snow removal services that could be caused by a COVID outbreak in maintenance departments. Hassinger noted the pandemic has made it difficult to hire enough seasonal workers, and MoDOT is attempting to prepare for the worst-case scenario where a whole region could be sidelined by the virus during a storm.
  • Hassinger did note that as a result of COVID, the public appears better prepared to simply ride out a storm at home, working from home if necessary, instead of risking travel in bad conditions.

Construction Program

  • Deputy Director Hassinger reported with the recent project letting period, all of the projects delayed because of revenue concerns related to COVID are back into the mix for completion and all STIP projects scheduled are likely to be let this winter
  • Despite the COVID situation, MoDOT actually completed $130 million more in construction projects than a year ago (2019 numbers were also lower due to flooding)

Federal Funding

  • Deputy Director Hassinger reported all eyes are on the continuing resolution that has extended the federal budget thru December 11th. He noted that there is a belief that another CR will be approved by Congress that will get the nation through the administration change over and fund the government thru spring.
  • “Of course, it would be devastating to us if that doesn’t happen, if federal funding gets caught up in political gridlock,” he said.
  • Hassinger reported that news from the AASHTO annual meeting was that transportation funding could take an uptick on the federal level with the administration change but could also be dependent upon avoiding the stalemate of divided House vs. Senate politics.
  • With the potential for federal stimulus projects and/or additional discretionary spending for transportation, Hassinger highlighted the need for continued diligence on the transportation unfunded needs list. “This likely will be the foundation for any pursuit of additional federal funding,” he said.

Question and Answers

  • A question was asked related to the MoDOT legislative agenda and the proposed 10-cent fuel tax increase, raising the rate two cents a year over the next five years. The St. Louis district asked about earmarking funding for more multi-modal needs, but Hassinger indicated the tax revenues would be constitutionally mandated for road and bridge needs.
  • Hassinger indicated multi-modal projects likely would be targeted by additional federal discretionary funding. However, he warned that without a fuel tax increase or some other form of added local revenue, that Missouri will be in trouble, as it is already maxed out on matching the current federal funding. “If federal funding increases and we do not increase state revenues, Missouri is going to be in trouble,” he said. “We will be sitting on the sidelines watching new federal money pass us by because we don’t have the money to make the local match required to receive the funds.”
  • A question was asked about the new financial projects and Curtit indicated those likely would be shared with planners after they have been approved by the State Highway Commission at its January meeting.
  • The Kansas City districts asked about any potential environmental policy changes under the new administration. Hassinger noted those likely would have to be tied to new funding sources.
  • A financial outlook question led to a comment by Hassinger that in addition to concerns that the 10% traffic decline related to COVID may be more permanent, lawmakers and/or voters will need to come to grips with the fact that inflation takes an annual toll on revenues on a tax level that has not be raised in a quarter century. “It is time we come to grips with the fact that every year we lose $30 million in purchasing power in our budget due to inflation,” he said.
  • The Columbia district asked if there were any preliminary indications that the declining traffic might result in less decline in pavement conditions. Hassinger said there was no data yet, but he believed that would not be the case, as commercial traffic, which has a much higher impact on pavement conditions, actually was on the rise. He noted that a traffic pattern change to less passenger and more commercial would in fact likely result in faster decline of pavement.
  • The NEMO RPC asked about the TAP funding and the possibility of the central office establishing firm funding targets as it relates to the break down of the sidewalk program’s grant money between communities of less than 5,000 population and those 5,001-200,000 so that the small towns could see what piece of the pie was allocated just to them and not feel as if they had to compete against the larger cities.

TAP Meeting Teleconference

  • TAC Chair Mari Macomber and Chris Feeney of the NEMO RPC met via teleconference with MoDOT officials to address questions related to the recent announcement that funding for the Transportation Alternatives Plan (TAP) had been restored. An estimated $3,919,353 is anticipated to be available to fund authorized TAP projects in this call for projects including 441,977 for the northeast district.
  • MoDOT’s LTAP director Julie Stottlemyer noted that funding for the program is allocated into two separate pots, one for communities under 5,000 in population and a second for communities over 5,000 but under 200,000 in population.
  • The minimum grant application is for $100,000 with a maximum of $400,000 and requires a minimum 20% local match. Deadline for applications is January 29, 2021.
  • Mari also asked for recommendations from MoDOT on how our TAC can better aid MoDOT. Paula Gough noted that TAC needs need to be as specific as possible and we need to avoid open-ended recommendations. Stottlemeyer noted that specific targets such as safety or pavement preservation that highlight the scope of the project as well as the need, also can be beneficial.