In the days of the old Missouri west, cowboys and farmers shared their opinions on pioneer government issues by slipping scraps of paper into the town suggestion box, or by participating in heated discussions held at local saloons and churches. While much has changed over the last 150 years, Missouri still values its residents' input.
Today, a Flash game offered on the Web, the Funding Allocation Challenge, replaces the old town suggestion box as a tool for constituents to help shape the state's future transportation plans.
Missouri Advance Planning (MAP) Initiative
The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) manages 32,000 miles of roads, 130 airports, 14 port authorities and 7,000 bridges. With an annual budget of $2 billion, MoDOT's 6,200 employees serve more than 5 million customers. According to officials, long-range planning and periodic assessments are ways to ensure those customers get the biggest bang for their taxpaying buck.
In a recent election, Missouri voters overwhelmingly approved Amendment No. 3, which urges state leaders to improve the transportation system sooner rather than later. In response, MoDOT launched the Missouri Advance Planning (MAP) Initiative that will ultimately produce Missouri's transportation vision for the future.
According to MoDOT's Web site, MAP is "a process designed to involve Missourians from every walk of life in defining what our transportation system could and should do for its citizens, and how best to fulfill those expectations and its potential."
MAP considers all aspects of the transportation system -- roads and bridges, bicycle and pedestrian needs, aviation, public transportation, freight, rail, rivers and ports. The initiative considers public participation critical to the success of MAP and designed the Funding Allocation Challenge as a tool to encourage involvement from its residents.
Eric Curtit, Missouri advance planning project manager, explains that MoDOT is using multiple tools to engage Missouri citizens about what the transportation system should and could do for them. "The Challenge is one of these tools," he said. "The hope with the Challenge is twofold. First, that MoDOT gains a better understanding of Missourians' priorities with respect to transportation funding. Second, that Missourians understand the difficulty in setting priorities, and while one choice for a priority is good, any choice in priorities has consequences in other areas."
The funds to create the game and the long-range plan are called State and Research funds provided by the federal government. Curtit noted that the federal government mandates that these funds be used on transportation planning and not for other purposes such as construction.
Take the Challenge!
The game can be found at the Web site by clicking on the Funding Allocation Challenge channel. MoDOT Director Pete Rahn appears in a series of videos inviting players to allocate $100 between these 10 categories:
Players receive a virtual stack of coins that can be dragged and dropped onto game squares that correspond to one of the 10 categories. The amount used and remaining balance is displayed in real time for the player, who can also click on the game squares to learn more about that particular category or select to equally distribute funds across the board.
After the player spends the $100, Rahn reappears with an introduction to different perspectives on transportation funding. The player's allocation choices are then analyzed based on philosophies such as improved economics; maintaining/expanding transportation infrastructure; improved safety; alternative modes of transportation, such as bus, rail, biking, walking, etc.; and Missouri's allocations.
Currently MoDOT spends the most money in two areas -- maintaining the state's transportation system (47 percent) and building/expanding the system (36 percent).
The player then has the choice to either reallocate his spending based on what he has learned in the game, or submit his original choices to the state. His final selections are then summarized and compared in charts to other citizens' choices and to actual state allocations.
Does it Work?
As of press time, Curtit said the site, which launched in January 2006, receives approximately 500 hits per month, but he hopes those numbers will rise dramatically as the word spreads through media coverage.
Although the allocation game isn't statistically valid, the results will be used in the overall development of the long-range transportation plan. By taking the challenge, residents can better understand the difficulties legislators face in setting spending priorities and help shape their state's future.