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Infrastructure advocates | Editorials | emissourian.com

The state is going to spend nearly $86 million to widen Highway 47 from Washington to St. Clair. This long-needed highway improvement project is really going to happen. MoDOT officially approved the project this week.

While the work won’t begin for several years, this is a crucial development for our county, which will have far-reaching implications for decades to come.

On a practical level, MoDOT’s final approval is good news for the thousands of motorists who suffer through traffic bottlenecks on this congested and dangerous stretch of highway on a daily basis. Our county’s main north-south corridor resembles a parking lot at peak times on some days.

But this week’s announcement has ramifications beyond a better driving experience. It is a positive development for the county’s overall health and economic well-being.

Infrastructure investments of this order matter when it comes to economic development. They create economic opportunity. Infrastructure enables trade, powers businesses, connects workers to their jobs, and creates opportunities for more collaboration among communities.

An improved Highway 47 is a harbinger of further economic development in this county. Businesses, manufacturers, organizations, invest, relocate and expand in locations where there are good roads. We expect this highway project will have that impact.

This construction project also is going to generate a significant amount of economic activity for this region. To be sure, a project of this scope and size is bound to cause some inconvenience for motorists during the construction phase. It will cause some heartburn. But it also is going to create local employment opportunities. It is going to spur business for area restaurants, hotels and suppliers.

And the reality is this project may never have gotten to the final approval stage without the advocacy of a group of local leaders, many volunteers, who have pressed the need for this project with state officials for years. Many serve on the Washington Area Highway Transportation Committee and its many offshoot committees.

That advocacy was noted at the Missouri Highway and Transportation Commission meeting in Jefferson City Wednesday where final approval for the Highway 47 project was announced. A contingent of Washington officials, including former Mayor Sandy Lucy, was on hand to publicly thank the commissioners for making the investment in our county and for their support over the years for projects in this area, including the new Missouri River bridge.

They gave cigars to commission members to show their appreciation. It was a nice gesture by members of a larger group of serious and committed leaders who have been working — often behind the scenes — to make sure Washington and Franklin County are on the state’s radar when it comes to infrastructure improvements. They understand how important it is to have an enduring relationship with MoDOT and have fostered that relationship with engagement and outreach for years.

It was some of these same leaders who started the “Pennies for the Bridge” fund drive in local schools to raise money (awareness, really) for the need for a new bridge in Washington in 2013. Over a $1,000 in pennies was raised, which was presented to the Highway Commission in a wheelbarrow. The effort made an impact with highway commissioners. They took notice of the community involvement for the bridge project. The ribbon was cut on the new bridge in 2018.

We owe these local infrastructure advocates a debt of gratitude. Their contributions to improving the quality of life and safety through better infrastructure have been invaluable to this area. They have and continue to make an impression with MoDOT by out-working and out-hustling other communities. They do the work. They show up. They have made a difference.

That is critical in a state that has more transportation needs than available dollars.

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