Fischer gathers reps to pitch new road

Roger Fischer, Western District county commissioner, gathered members of local and state government Wednesday to listen to his proposal for a new road. The road would extend from Fulton to near Ashland.
Roger Fischer, Western District county commissioner, gathered members of local and state government Wednesday to listen to his proposal for a new road. The road would extend from Fulton to near Ashland.

Callaway County Western District Commissioner Roger Fischer has big plans.

On Wednesday, he gathered local figures and government members for a meeting and question-and-answer session regarding his proposal for a new road.

In attendance were Fulton Mayor LeRoy Benton, Missouri Department of Transportation Central District Engineer Mike Schupp, state Rep. Travis Fitzwater (R-Holts Summit), Fulton Director of Administration Bill Johnson, Callaway Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Director Bruce Hackmann, and representatives from the offices of Sens. Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill, among others.

Fischer said he understands government moves slowly, which is why he wanted to get as many people together to work on the issue as possible.

"We've got to get this to shovel-ready status as quickly as possible and then wait for the funding to arrive," he said.

Fischer believes Routes F and WW around Millersburg are overloaded with commuters, farming equipment, weekend bikers and large trucks.

"Sooner or later, we're going to have a horrific accident on that route," he said.

Options for accessing the Ashland area, which Fischer said is predicted to continue growth and development, are limited.

Attendees expressed support and caution.

While the cost of the project hasn't been officially estimated yet, Presiding County Commissioner Gary Jungermann said the current road and bridge budget barely covers upkeep for the county. State and federal money would be necessary.

Both are difficult to access, attendees said.

One option, brought forward by Benton, is the U.S. Department of Transportation's TIGER grant program.

"We tried to (apply for it) here in Fulton a few years ago, when we were doing the railroad," he said. "I understand it's competitive."

Benton said it appears this road project would be eligible. Twenty percent of the grant money is reserved for rural projects, he said, adding that TIGER grants are $5-25 million.

State money is also competitive. Schupp said MoDOT is monetarily spread thin.

"The way that this has been with MoDOT, there are way too many things on the list," Jungermann agreed.

He explained in order to get MoDOT to fund a project, it needs to pass through several levels of competition. First, its priority is ranked at the county level. Then, that list of priorities is combined with the lists of other counties in the region. In Callaway County's case, that region consists of five other counties, including Boone and Cole.

The combined list is re-ranked by the Regional Planing Committee, before being brought to the state level to be re-ranked again.

In other words, a project must be considered a priority on the state level to receive MoDOT funding.

"The way the process works right now is a little scary, because state funding levels are very low and it's highly competitive," Jungermann said. "I've watched the system work for the last seven years and (getting funding) is almost a stroke of luck. Other regions also have real needs that you've seen as you've travelled."

One potential mitigating factor, Fischer said, could be partnering with Boone County, which could hypothetically also benefit from this road. He said a Boone County commissioner has expressed support for the project.

There's also the potential for private funding, he said, as local companies stand to benefit from a direct route into a rapidly growing region.

"We're looking for private industry to help offset some public costs," Fischer said.

Fitzwater said given the state of MoDOT's funding, that's a good idea.

"The investment is going to have to come from federal and private sources," he said.

However, he's glad the county is looking toward the future.

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