The state’s transportation community is reacting to this month’s election results. President elect Donald Trump has said he’s committed to rebuilding the country’s roads and bridges.
Len Toenjes heads the Associated General Contractors of Missouri, which represents the construction industry. He thinks Trump’s pledge sounds good, but lacks details on funding. “I guess until a piece of legislation is actually introduced at the federal level, that’s sort of the question mark” said Toenjes. “I think there’s a commitment to spending. The question is ‘What’s the commitment to funding’. That’s sort of the unknown at the federal level”.
Toenjes says current ideas for funding infrastructure projects center on public-private partnerships which have no recognized revenue stream. He notes 65 percent of money for roads and bridges comes from the federal government.
Within the state, Governor elect Eric Greitens will have a significant impact on the future of roads and bridges. Toenjes says Greitens has talked about making the state spend existing money more efficiently and using the savings for road projects. He’s skeptical the plan would generate enough funding to address the state’s needs. “I’m sure there are some places to get some dollars to reposition, or reallocate into transportation funding. The question is what’s really the long term plan because, ultimately. I think almost everyone in the transportation community realizes the current level of revenue is not sufficient.”
After coming under fire for waste and abuse of funding itself, the state Department of Transportation has reorganized itself over the past few years, eliminating over 1,200 positions and closing several district offices.
Toenjes contends $400-to-500 million in additional money per year will be needed to maintain roads. He says the cost will be much higher if projects to rebuild highways such as I-70 and I-44 are undertaken. Toenjes also thinks lawmakers and Governor elect Eric Greitens must come up with a plan to adequately maintain roads and highways.
“Is it $500 million tomorrow? I don’t think so. But I think over time, you’re going to have to have, or the legislature and the governor are going to need to come up with something to really address this over the next three to five years.” Toenjes notes Arkansas has passed a half-cent sales tax to pay for road projects while Iowa hiked its gas tax by ten cents which will raise $215 million annually for its roads.
Looking at surrounding states which compete to bring in goods and services and attract industry, Toenjes contends Missouri is falling behind.
Critics of increased road spending say the state maintained network is too large, and should be divided more evenly with counties and cities. Lettered county roads are part of the 34,000 mile system which the state maintains. Missouri has the 7th biggest network of roads to maintain, but is 47th in funding.