The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) is holding Listening Sessions across the state. I attended the April 3 Kirksville Listening Session.

The stated purpose of the Listening Sessions is to get community input on the overall direction of MoDOT. Historically, MoDOT has invested heavily in roads for cars and trucks at the expense of other forms of transportation. MoDOT operates one of the largest highway systems in the nation. MoDOT asked, should we invest in other forms of transportation? Maintain what we have? Or build more?

I’ve heard claims that MoDOT has already made up their mind and the Listening Sessions are merely a publicity stunt to garner support for their proposed 1% sales tax. The Listening Sessions do bolster support, so in that sense they are a publicity stunt. We had two discussion exercises during which we considered the future at the current $1.4 billion funding level and then the future at a $2 billion funding level. Of course it was very difficult to juggle the pieces around when every aspect of transportation needs more funding. It’s hard not to be convinced that MoDOT needs more funding.

But I also believe that MoDOT is sincere about its intention to collect and consider public input and intends to change its ways based on what we say. There are signs that MoDOT has already changed. After other Listening Sessions, they tweeted that people are asking for more bike/ped. If they had already made up their mind not to fund bike/ped, I don’t think they’d be announcing that publicly. During our Listening Session, I heard and read “bike/ped” from MoDOT several times.

My input to MoDOT was to prioritize safety and health. We were asked to choose “Upgrade”, “Maintain”, or “Multimodal”, but safety and health cut across all three. “Upgrade” includes new roads and bridges as well as shoulders, cable guards, and better signage. I do not support building new roads but I do support adding shoulders to dangerous roads. Shoulders increase the life of a road and decrease maintenance costs. Shoulders increase the safety of a road for both motorists and bicyclists.

“Multimodal” encompasses public transit, waterway, rail, air—and bike/ped. I want to prioritize those aspects of “Multimodal” that improve safety and health, which is public transit and bike/ped. The others help the economy, which is nice, but they don’t have a direct impact on safety and health. You might ask, “How can you enjoy your health when you’re unemployed?” but I would ask, “How can you enjoy your job when you’re sick or injured, or even dead?”

“Maintain” might have the most impact on safety. MoDOT maintains roads that in other states would be taken care of by cities and counties. We do have relatively more roads compared to other states, but the main reason our state highway system is so large is that what are state roads here would be city and county roads elsewhere.

If you missed the Listening Session, you can share your ideas with MoDOT.