Missouri lawmakers were somewhat surprised when a strange concept arose at a joint House-Senate conference committee on the fiscal year 2015 budget. They were even more surprised by the evasive answer the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) provided.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said constituents called him about Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRADs), and he read an article about them. In essence, they blast loud warnings at oncoming traffic, ordering drivers to slow down. Schaefer and other lawmakers on the committee had never heard of these LRADs, which are also used by police and military personnel to disperse protests and deter pirates.
When department officials were called up for questioning, they danced around the topic. First, they had never heard of “sound cannons.” Then, they didn’t know how many they had. Then, they weren’t sure how much they cost.
“The evasive answer was troubling,” Senator Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, said. “We are elected to hold them accountable...If they screw up, we have to answer for them at the ballot box.”
Even after some poking and prodding, the answers were unclear. Department officials said they have one, maybe two LRADs and that they cost about $25,000 a piece.
Department officials said they sidelined the pilot project, for now, because public perception “got out of hand.”
Turns out the department officials present at the hearing were incorrect. Although MoDOT had plans of leasing a couple LRADs as part of a pilot project in the summer of 2014, the equipment was unavailable, spokeswoman Holly Dentner said.
Dentner said the department didn’t intend to frighten anyone and wasn’t sure if the LRADs would be used in the future.
Schaefer thinks the project should remain on the sidelines for good. A driver lacking confidence might get blasted by the sound and drive into the median or another car, he said.
“This seems to be a horrible idea,” Schaefer said.