Whether Missouri voters approve or reject a proposed three-quarters-of-one-cent sales tax increase to support transportation could have a lot to do with their memories going back about 22 years.
In 1992, the 15-year highway plan was enacted that included making all highways to towns of 5,000 people or larger four-lanes and a widening of Interstates 70 and 44 to six lanes. Six years later the plan was scrapped. The Missouri Department of Transportation later said it had been based on cost estimates that were too low, project inflation and growth weren’t accounted for and it planned on expending more money than was projected to come in.
The plan’s failure was blamed for the rejection by voters in 2002 of a $500-million transportation tax increase. Then in 2004 Missourians approved Amendment 3, shifting all revenues from the motor vehicle fuel tax to state and local highways, roads and bridges. The Department went to work on projects throughout the state and its public perception has improved.
Senator Mike Kehoe (R-Jefferson City) joined the Highways and Transportation Commission in 2005 and later became its chairman. He says perception was on the mind of Governor Matt Blunt (R) when Kehoe was appointed.
“One of the first things Governor Blunt went out and said was, ‘You need to try to work with some of our rural groups and tell them about the 15-year plan,” says Kehoe. “I said well that’s simple. MODOT screwed up. They didn’t do the right thing. They didn’t fulfill their commitment.”
Kehoe says the Commission and the Department, then directed by Pete Rahn, were committed to improving on the earlier failure and winning back the trust of the public. He says in partnership with contractors, they were able to do that.
Now it is that success that he says could help supporters of the transportation tax proposal sell it to voters between now and August 5.
“MODOT wants to take that reputation, said, ‘We messed up once in ’92. You told us we messed up. We listened. We got a second chance in ’04 with Amendment 3, and now we want to move forward under that same trust and relationship that we’ve built with you, Missouri, and deliver projects to you again,'” says Kehoe.
Governor Jay Nixon (D) on Friday announced action to put that proposed constitutional amendment on the primary ballot along with four other proposed amendments. The plan would generate an estimated $534-million a year for ten years to support roads and bridges and other transportation infrastructure in Missouri.