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The Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission approved a $3.2 billion budget that includes more funding for Amtrak, pay increases for workers and port improvements.

The Missouri Department of Transportation's 2022 fiscal year budget of nearly $3.2 billion was approved at the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission meeting Wednesday.

Among the expenditures are $10.85 million for Amtrak, a 2 percent increase in pay for all MoDOT employees, and funding for port developments, low-volume road repairs and weigh station improvements.

The 2022 fiscal year budget is $77.4 million more than the department received last fiscal year.

"I want to commit, along with the other commissioners, that we will do the best we can to make sure that money is spent wisely," Commission Chairman Michael Waters Jr. said.

With additional funding for passenger rail service, an additional daily train from St. Louis to Kansas City will begin operation in July. The department also received additional funding for port improvements, bringing the total for port capital improvements to $11.6 million.

In 2020, the Legislature approved and Gov. Mike Parson signed legislation transferring 116 acres of state-owned land just east of the Ike Skelton Training Facility to the Heartland Port Authority for the potential development of a Jefferson City port on the Missouri River.

Machelle Watkins, MoDOT central district engineer, said port improvements in the central district could be possible. Because ports rely on general revenue appropriations, MoDOT coordinates with port authorities and the state to prioritize projects recommended for funding.

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The Missouri Legislature then reviews those projects and chooses which ones will be funded in the upcoming budget cycle. Watkins said MoDOT will be working with ports in late June and early July to determine priority projects to submit to the Legislature this fall. These are then added to the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program via an amendment pending Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission approval.

"It's not project-specific yet, but it will be later this summer or early fall," Watkins said about port improvement funding.

In addition to a pay increase for all MoDOT employees, the department has adopted a yearlong 5 percent pay increase for the top 10 percent of employees based on performance.

The incentive is capped at $2,500 per employee annually. The Above and Beyond program goes into effect Jan. 1, 2022.

The budget has $15 million in funding set aside for low-volume roads in five of the state's seven districts as part of the maintenance asset management deficit program.

"I always think of us as being $2.6 billion worth of work and I never cease to be amazed at how well we stretch our dollars here to keep our roads in such good shape," Commissioner Robert Brinkmann said. "It kind of makes you excited about thinking of spending some of these new tax dollars and doing a bit more next year."

An increase of $154.4 million will go to program delivery, which includes everything from hiring consultants to design projects to making immediate purchases.

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According to MoDOT's Guide to Transportation Funding in Missouri, construction program funds make up the largest area of the budget as it funds safety improvements, maintaining systems and provides flexible funds used at the discretion of districts.

Weigh stations are also targeted in the new budget as some are improved and others are decommissioned.

Plans include construction of a tire defect detection system, construction of an inspection shed at the weigh station on Interstate 55 in Pemiscot County, and decommissioning the weigh station on Route 412, I-155 in Pemiscot County.

An additional $598,000 would be earmarked to construct a weigh scale inspection building at the eastbound Joplin weigh station and decommission the westbound Joplin weigh station.

"Our ultimate goal is to concentrate our limited resources on the sites with the greatest demand for commercial vehicle enforcement," Brenda Morris, MoDOT chief financial officer, said.

With construction programs and daily operations contingent on good weather, the Missouri General Assembly approved a 20 percent flexibility between major budget categories to allow funds to be shifted around as needed.

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The major budget categories include administration, safety and operations, program delivery and multimodal operations administration, among others.

"This flexibility is more than we've had in the last couple years, and it is very welcomed," Morris said.

The Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission also approved 40 bids for projects around the state and recognized state bridge engineer Dennis Heckman for his retirement.

Watkins said the commission will vote on the approval of local projects next month when it votes on the 2022-26 Statewide Transportation Improvement Program.

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