The Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission (MHTC) last week released a $4.8-billion draft list of projects it says would improve safety, create jobs and boost Missouri's economy over the next 10 years. The timing of the release was no accident. In six weeks, state residents head to the polls to vote on a measure that could shape the future of Missouri road and bridge construction for years to come.
In recent years, the future hasn't looked very bright. Since 2009, annual funding for state roads and bridges has declined by nearly 50%, from $1.3 billion to $685 million. For a variety of reasons, including rising material costs and declining fuel tax revenues – the latter the result of more fuel-efficient cars – the Missouri Department of Transportation anticipates a dip to $325 million by 2017. MoDOT Transportation Director Dave Nichols has indicated Missouri requires $485 million to maintain Missouri roads and bridges.
In February, MHTC pulled the plug on a cost-share program designed to accelerate construction of local road projects, citing intent to focus only on maintenance as a result of funding shortfalls. The 15-year old program helped expedite more than 175 road projects in Missouri.
“We're not going to be able to to accomplish what Missourians want or expect,” Nichols indicated at a conference coinciding with MHTC's announcement of its decision.
Now it's up to Missourians to decide for themselves what they want and expect. On August 5, voters will determine the outcome of Amendment 7, a ballot measure to raise Missouri's sales tax by three-quarters of a cent for a period of 10 years, with all proceeds allocated to state transportation.
Meantime, transportation officials are scheduling open-house meetings in every region in the state to answer questions and take comments on the draft list. Based on feedback,MHTC will update the list on July 9.
MHTC also has indicated intent to proceed with some transportation crowd-pleasers, including widening of congested Interstate 70 between St. Louis and Kansas City, should the measure pass.
For what it's worth, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon opposes the measure, indicating it is regressive and will place further hardship on poorer state residents. No one's really arguing those points. Nor has any one come up with a funding alternative for a program that is fast running out of gas.