Road funding impacts Poplar Bluff area quarry
By DONNA FARLEY
With a single blast Tuesday, workers shook 25,000 tons of rock out of the wall of a Poplar Bluff quarry.
The majority of the aggregate will be crushed and mixed into asphalt and concrete, destined for Missouri road projects, said Don Rosenbarger, vice president of operations for Delta Companies, which has operated the quarry for the last 16 years.
Delta, an employer of more than 40 people through facilities in Poplar Bluff and Dexter, is one local business directly impacted by funding shortages which are expected to hit the Missouri Department of Transportation hard in coming years.
The company took local and state officials on a tour this week of the Poplar Bluff quarry, concrete plant and asphalt plant, highlighting another aspect of what's at stake for a legislature that must decide how to pay for the upkeep of nearly 34,000 miles of state-maintained highways.
Transportation funding remains very much an open question, House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, said at the conclusion of the tour.
Richardson expects to see a variety of solutions proposed during the next legislative session for both short and long-term fixes to the problem.
Solutions considered during the last session included proposals to increase the state gasoline tax. At 17 cents per gallon, Missouri has the fifth lowest gasoline tax in the country and has not seen an increase in almost 20 years, according to MoDOT.
Richardson said he prefers to find solutions that do not involve raising taxes.
Updated revenue calculations suggest the state will be able to match federal dollars in 2017 without legislative action this session, Richardson said.
The state wants to continue to draw down every federal dollar possible, he said.
Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission Chairman Stephen Miller announced last Friday MoDOT expects to receive enough revenue in 2017 to meet federal matching funds due to a 4.5 percent increase in state revenues from motor vehicle taxes, vehicle sales taxes and vehicle and driver licensing fees.
Earlier estimates had predicted the state would be $42 million short of meeting federal matching funds, which could have cost Missouri $167 million in federal transportation dollars.
Miller warned in his weekly column this is a one-time increase and offers no assurances for 2018.
"Simply scraping by and just barely meeting federal fund matching does not address Missouri's long range transportation needs," he said.
Missouri maintains the seventh largest highway system in the nation, with 63 cents of every dollar received by MoDOT generated by fuel taxes.
Proposals released by MoDOT to deal with funding shortages include focusing most maintenance work on the state's primary roads and bridges, or about 8,000 miles of the state-maintained system.
Westwood Boulevard, which is traveled by 20,000 cars per day, and Pine Street are examples of MoDOT-maintained roads outside the primary system.
Pothole repair is the type of work that can be expected on Westwood in the future, but not the smooth, black overlay done today, according to MoDOT staff.
A robust, comprehensive long-term transportation funding solution is needed not just for companies that operate in the transportation industry, but for everyone that uses Missouri's roads, according to Rosenbarger.
"It's not just about us. All of us use the roads and bridges," he said.
All of the goods used by Missouri's consumers, from food to clothing and other products, are transported across state highways, Rosenbarger said.
The majority of Delta's Missouri sales involve department of transportation projects, either through construction, under which Delta lays the asphalt or concrete, or manufacturing, when the company sells its products to another operator, Rosenbarger said.
Delta's Missouri operations have seen a 22 percent decrease in sales since 2012, with an identical drop in fulltime employees since 2010, Rosenbarger said.
Poplar Bluff operations did see increases in construction sales in the last two years, due in part to projects like the new Poplar Bluff Regional Medical Center and Eight Points retail development, according to Delta employees. Yet, local construction sales were still down by more than half between 2010 and 2014.
Delta's 1,200-acre quarry, Williamsville Quarry, located on Highway 67 at the Black River, produces more than 650,000 tons of rock a year, a number that declines as state road construction projects grind to a halt.
The asphalt operations produce 40,000 tons of blacktop a year, and another 35,000 yards of concrete are produced annually at the ready mix facility.
Also attending the tour were Butler County Commissioner Butch Anderson, Poplar Bluff City Manager Mark Massingham and Poplar Bluff Mayor Pro Tem David Johnson.