Missouri Senate committee cuts funds for Rock Island Trail construction • Missouri Independent

Opponents of a new recreational trail across the states along the old Rock Island Railroad Corridor have the upper hand in the General Assembly after the state Senate Appropriations Committee cut funds needed to develop it on Monday.

The committee approved four spending bills for the coming year to pay for new construction, the repair of state facilities and the use of $2.8 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds. Governor Mike Parson, in a budget proposal approved by the Missouri House, earmarked $69.2 million in federal relief funds to develop the 144-mile rail corridor donated to the state last year by Ameren Missouri.

“I object because of the hundreds of millions of dollars we have in deferred maintenance around the state on every other state park,” Vice President of Credits Lincoln Hough, R-Springrfield, said after the vote of the committee. “I would like to see us invest in the structures and infrastructure that we have at these facilities around the state before we go out and build a $100 million+ trail.”

Bills approved Monday include more than $110 million for other state park needs, including $57.6 million for general maintenance and repair projects and $40.9 million for upgrades. water and wastewater infrastructure.

Proponents of the trail have lobbied for years for the state to acquire the rail corridor that runs through south-central Missouri from Beaufort in Franklin County to Windsor in Henry County. Proponents see it as an addition to Katy Trail State Park, which opened to the public about 30 years ago, and a chance to preserve structures like tunnels and bridges this dates from the beginning of the 20th century.

“I am terribly disappointed,” said Greg Harris, retired executive director and current board member of Rock Island Trail Inc.

Supporters have not given up hope, he said, since the funding is in the House budget version. Lawmakers have until Friday to reconcile the differences between the chambers, he noted.

“It’s really up to the House and Senate conference committee to come up with a deal between $69 million and zero,” Harris said.

But before the bill approved by the Senate committee can make it to a conference committee, it must be approved by the Senate floor.

In all, lawmakers have 19 spending bills totaling nearly $50 billion to complete by Friday. Of this number, 14 have passed the two chambers and must take part in the work of the conference committee as of Tuesday morning.

The four bills sent to the Senate on Monday by the appropriations committee spend a total of $3.8 billion. The biggest differences with the House lie in the bill spending American Rescue Plan Act funds passed in March 2021.

Along with funding for Rock Island Trail, the Senate committee cut $50 million added by the House for capital improvements at river ports, $20 million recommended for building cell towers on public lands, and $88 million dollars for a new Missouri State Highway Patrol Academy.

The committee reinstated $200 million for broadband development to reach the $300 million total sought by Parson. He also added $25 million to an industrial site development plan that was $50 million in the House version and which Parson pegged at $25 million.

The committee also added 69 construction projects totaling about $210 million that were not recommended by Parson or included by the House. Projects range from $50,000 to main street improvements in the Dutchtown neighborhood of St. Louis to $31.5 million for the expansion of the Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders at the University of Missouri.

The bill with COVID relief funds has something for every senator who has asked for help with a local project, Appropriations Committee Chairman Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, said.

“I think every senator has something in there that they should like,” Hegeman said.

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