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Our city and university are heading down wrong roads

Our city and university are heading down wrong roads

Al Germond

I am worried.

I am worried about Columbia’s future as well as the destiny of the region and the state as well. I consider it my business as a commentator to worry about our future and the direction we’re headed. I’m not optimistic about some of the paths we as a community seem to be following. Columbia seems to be headed down the wrong road in a number of key areas and I worry that the business community doesn’t have the will to set things right.

• I worry about the future of the University of Missouri — the region’s basic, fundamental economic engine and essentially why Columbia has developed from its most humble 200-year-old origins.

The mothership campus of the University of Missouri is now massed against an unprecedented series of attacks on many fronts probably not seen since the 1930s, when the ravages of the Great Depression were eating away at the very core of its operation.

The latest affront — and only scantily noticed it seems — is the rising tempo of “raids” on our faculty and staff by other universities intent on poking at our fiscal weakness with lucrative financial packages they know Missouri’s classic parsimony cannot be expected to match. Yet the community seems so blasé and preoccupied with other matters that there’s little interest in the latest cancer now starting to eat away at our precious state university.

• I worry about Interstate 70 and other elements of the region’s transportation system with knowledge that our continued prosperity requires safe and functional accessibility to and from all directions.

Rebuilding Interstate 70 is back on the map so to speak, with the recent designation of the route by federal authorities as a key transcontinental link and the possibility that something may happen sooner than expected. Upgrading I-70 under the current plan includes widening the highway’s 60-year-old twisted course through town. During construction, this will create a transportation bottleneck that will upset the region and its economy for several years. I’ll say it again — the Missouri Department of Transportation should bypass the city with a new highway in connection with a high speed trans-state rail line and, while we’re at it, build a second bridge across the Missouri River near Rocheport.

• I worry about certain interest groups that selfishly throttle matters to their benefit while subverting the best interests of the community at large. Where do we begin in a region where idle minds seem to have more than enough time for their oftentimes malicious meddling?

Most recently, a self-styled group of “neighbors” wanted to impose its will on a portion of the community called North Central Columbia. If this activity is not deemed illegal as a “taking” — I’ll let lawyers and the courts figure that one out — I find the willful arrogance of this unruly cabal of citizens both disturbing and offensive.

More on the back burner is the equally questionable activity relating to a certain section of so-called “historic” West Broadway and the specious “analysis” earlier this year authored by an out-of-town clan of “consultants,” which I believe wrongly affirms the “adequacy” — with a few twists of “improvement” — of the current situation.

• I worry that Columbia is foolishly trying to feast on the $20-plus million it has to spend on various questionable pedestrian/cycling “pedway” projects when in conscience we never should have accepted this bucket of federal porcine slop.

The outcry was so great against the obvious: paving the MKT Trail. Now, in haste it seems because there is a timetable before the money runs out, those who have to figure out how to spend this largesse are in panic mode. They’re now fixated on “improving” Stadium and Forum boulevards. Why anyone would want to walk or ride a bicycle astride traffic inhaling vehicle fumes on either one of those streets is beyond me … but then, each to his own.

For those of us who comment and criticize — and all of us do daily in one way or another — maybe the foregoing comments will inspire more of us in the business community to speak out and become more active when we need to.

For example, I hope the business community will rise up and support the creation of a downtown public market area on the acreage AmerenUE currently occupies but has announced it will vacate for more capacious premises elsewhere. It is projects like a centrally located farmer’s market that give me hope that the community can pull off something really positive that will be beneficial to all of us and not just a horde of the selfish few.

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