November 6, 2003
by Chris Feeney
What if you threw a starving man a sandwich? He would quickly gobble it down and smile, but would it really solve the problem? Thatís sort of how I felt about the dedication of the recently completed section of Highway 61 near Canton that is now four lanes. Before I start, I do truly appreciate the efforts of all those involved in helping make this section of the road much safer for all of us that travel it. And yeah, you shouldnít look a gift-horse in the mouth right? We country folks up here in the boonies should be grateful for every tax dollar we can get. Still, I canít help but feel like we were given this little piece of the pie simply to appease the growing complaints about our stateís failure to live up to its transportations promises such as the fabled Avenue of the Saints.
I guess I find it sad that it took an extraordinary group, like the SMART organization (Students of Missouri Assisting Rural and Urban Transportation) to get money appropriated to build a highway that was supposed to be done years ago. Iím not attempting to belittle what SMART accomplished, because quite simply without their efforts this definitely would not have happened like it did. But I find it hard to accept this as a triumph when there is still so much to be done and no timetable for its completion. Blame it on the scapegoat of the now infamous 15-year plan. Blame it on urban sprawl that is sapping funding for rural projects. Or simply blame it on MoDOT itself as an easy target. Regardless of culpability, the problem still exists, even as we celebrate one small success in the otherwise dismal problem of funneling four-lane traffic down to two lanes in the most dangerous section of the highway 61 route.
There was no hiding the fact that Highway 61 was and is incredibly dangerous. It simply offers a commentary on the sad state of affairs for transportation funding in the state of Missouri. It takes gut-wrenching testimonials from heart broken young people, like SMARTís Lindsey Gaither about her lost friend, Kristin Nicole Hendrickson, who died in a crash on Highway 61 in 2000, in order to make things happen. Whatís worse is, that in order for our road to be built, MoDOT and the state had to put off some other project, which was likely just as important to the people of that region, who likely will now have their own tragedies to mourn.
Wouldnít it be nice if we had a system that could appropriate funding to alleviate problems before we have to break out the crosses and line the roads with markers of tragedy? Of course there has to be funding to appropriate. I for one believe there will be, but it is going to take an extraordinary leap of faith by voters as legislative actions and reorganization efforts by the transportation commission as well as MoDOT itself, still have not been enough to regain the publicís trust. But when you see enough tearful presenters like Lindsay Gaither you canít help but put aside your doubts to try to help heal the pain the only way we can, by paying for needed highway improvements.