The Missouri legislature has passed a resolution which establishes a panel to explore ways to improve the state’s roads and highways.
When the Senate followed previous House action and unanimously approve the measure Wednesday, the “21st Century Missouri Transportation System Task Force” was created.
The group will evaluate the state’s roads and bridges as well as transportation funding and whether there’s enough money to maintain the system. It’ll then make recommendations to address the needs and funding of roads.
The Missouri Department of Transportaion (MoDOT) has identified $825 million in additional money needed every year to address roads in its “Citizen’s Guide to Transportation Funding”. Broken down, the expenses include $170 million to maintain roads, $275 million in economic development and safety projects, $300 million to reconstruct interstate highways, and $80 million to improve mobility options.
The task force will be charged with figuring out how much money the state can raise for roads and determining how that funding will be acquired.
During what turned into a lengthy floor debate Wednesday, Senators from both sides of the aisle agreed the need to address decaying transportation infrastructure is long overdue. There was less consensus on how to finance the cost.
Republican Senator Doug Libla of Poplar Bluff has been a longtime advocate for improving roads. He contends the best way to raise money is by increasing the stagnant motor fuel tax. “Right therein lies the problem that we have” said Libla. “1996 was the last time we adjusted the rate.”
Fellow GOP member Bill Eigel of Weldon Spring would rather not raise any taxes, but instead use money from existing revenue.
“I think people are frustrated with government because every time we see a problem, we ask for more money” Eigel said. “And the only way we solve a lot of our problems is that we ask for more money regardless of the justification. And in this case we would be asking for more money in the form of a fuel tax.”
Eigel offered a proposal this year to authorize 10% of states sales and use taxes to be used for road improvements. The measure never gained traction.
Also during floor debate, Republican Dave Schatz of Poplar Bluff backed up Libla’s call to hike the fuel tax, saying out of state drivers would pick up a big chunk of the tab.
“The fact that there’s probably 50% of the miles traveled in our state are traveled by out of state citizens” Schatz said. “And whether you want to tax our citizens or be able to collect additional revenue from people that are using our roads, deteriorating our roads and bridges, why wouldn’t we want to adjust the motor fuel user fee in order to be able to collect that revenue from those individuals that are using our roads.”
While noting the need to improve transportation infrastructure, Democrat Scott Sifton of Affton blamed Governor Greitens for failing to take a leadership role after assuming office in January.
“Given the high profile nature of the problem, I don’t know, I just might have thought that the word transportation or road might have appeared somewhere in the State of the State Address this year, but it did not” said Sifton.
As noted in the resolution approved by the legislature, Missouri has the nation’s seventh largest state highway system, but ranks 47th in revenues per mile.
The task force will include a bipartisan group of 10 lawmakers along with the governor or his designee, the heads of the State Highway Patrol, Department of Economic Development and Department of Transportation, and nine residents of the state.
The group will meet numerous time and hold public hearings. It’ll report a summary of its activities and any recommendations for legislation to the General Assembly by January 1 of next year.
The task force resolution will not have to have Governor Greitens signature because it was created with the legislature’s approval. Wednesday’s vote in the Senate was 33-0.