A lawmaker thinks the state needs a large infusion of cash to deal with deteriorating roads.
State Senator Mike Kehoe (R – Jefferson City) was at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the just completed Lafayette Street Interchange project in Jefferson City. The $20 million undertaking, which includes a new lane in each direction of U.S. Route 50/63 in the area, as well as six newly built or replaced bridges, is one of the last large highway projects scheduled in Missouri.
After voters rejected a sales tax to finance transportation costs several years ago, little money was left to address the needs of the state. Kehoe credits a 2015 federal highway bill for helping to stabilize financing.
But he says much more money will be required to properly fund roads. “We’re still about $500 million a year short in what it takes to deliver the safety and projects like this across our state” said Kehoe. “It’s a substantial number that I’m sure we’ll be working on.”
Democratic governor candidate Chris Koster has echoed the figure of $500 million as a sum required to maintain roads and bridges and improve safety.
The state Transportation Department favors increasing the gas tax to help offset the shortage. MoDOT Director Patrick McKenna says “In the case of the gas tax, (it hasn’t been raised) for 20 years…What I am suggesting is that maybe that’s a good area to look at when we consider the investments that we need to make.”
Kehoe doesn’t think funding road projects entirely through the gas tax is realistic. He claims it would have to be raised 20-to-30 cents a gallon to cover hundreds of million it would take to cover costs, which he doubts the public would accept.
Kehoe thinks financing will probably have to come from a number of sources “It could be combination of fuel taxes. It could be a combination of sales tax. It could be combination of partnership invested from the private sector.”
Although some have said the funding problem stems from waste, fraud and abuse at MoDOT, Kehoe dismisses those claims as having been cleaned up in 2015 when the agency adopted a master plan. “They consolidated ten districts to seven” said Kehoe. “They reduced their workforce by 1,200 employees. They closed about 160 sheds, gained some efficiencies. And at the end of the day, (they) took all of that money, which was over $100 million per year, and put it towards the highway program.”
Also appearing at the Lafayette interchange ribbon cutting was the head of the contracting firm on the project, Emery Sapp and Sons. He stated that the interchange was the company’s last venture in Missouri, and it would now be moving to road projects in other states. Kehoe says the lack of transportation money is having an adverse effect on jobs and infrastructure. “The ripple effect with not building infrastructure, not taking care of what we have in our state really starts to affect our citizens and their families. And that’s a big concern to us.”
Ultimately, Kehoe thinks lawmakers will have to look at all resources available to fill the hole in road funding, and then present it to taxpayers.