JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A task force examining funding for Missouri’s transportation system discussed safety issues at Wednesday’s meeting in Jefferson City.

Missouri’s 21st Century Transportation System task force is looking at funding for the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT).

MoDOT state highway safety and traffic engineer Nicole Hood says the agency installed 800 miles of guard cable on Missouri interstates between 1999 and 2016.

Hood testifies the guard cable has saved more than 500 lives.

The agency says it costs $125,000 a mile to install guard cable and an additional $10,000 a mile per year to maintain it.

Missouri has the seventh-largest state highway system, with 33,884 miles of roadway.

State Rep. Bill Reiboldt, the House Transportation Committee Chairman, spoke at Wednesday’s hearing, praising MoDOT for the guard cables.

The Neosho Republican says his vehicle hit “black ice” on the highway, while he was traveling to the Capitol about five years ago. He credits the cables for helping to save him.

Guard cables were just one of numerous safety issues discussed at the hearing.

MoDOT says fatality crashes increased nine percent in 2016. Hood testifies 950 people died in Missouri traffic crashes in 2016.

“People, they’re still driving intoxicated, they’re not buckling up, they’re texting while they’re driving, they’re speeding and unfortunately sometimes those fatals are a result of all three of these,” Hood says.

Missouri is one of 16 states without a primary seat belt law.

MoDOT is urging state lawmakers to approve one, saying it would save lives. Hood says 53 Missouri municipalities have passed primary seat belt law ordinances.

Hood also says the Show-Me State ranks 50th in a safety report conducted by the National Safety Council (NSC). She says Missouri lawmakers should take action.

“We could strengthen our no-texting law,” says Hood. “Seat belts, we could pass a primary seat belt law. For the child passengers, we could strengthen our child passenger laws.”

MoDOT also supports allowing municipalities to use red light cameras, to prevent speeding.

Missouri Department of Transportation Director Patrick McKenna describes texting while driving and other forms of distracted driving as an “epidemic.”

“And while we’re reluctant to have additional governmental influence or control-type measures, we have to have counter measures to this epidemic,” McKenna tells the task force. “It’s killing, you know, or contributing in the deaths of over 40,000 people a year in this country.”

McKenna says MoDOT employees are not allowed to text and drive, while on duty.

He also says 250 Missouri companies have signed up to ban their employees from texting and driving, while on duty.

The task force will submit its recommendations to the Missouri Legislature by January 1.

Funding will be a key recommendation.

Missouri’s fuel tax hasn’t been increased since 1996, and the Show-Me State ranks 47th in the nation in revenue per mile.

Task force chair State Rep. Kevin Corlew, R-Kansas City, and State Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, clashed Wednesday over whether or not taxes should be increased.

Eigel says Missouri has a $27 billion annual state operating budget, and that his constituents oppose raising taxes.

(Brian Hauswirth, Missourinet)