The way money for roads is distributed in Missouri is often called into question by residents.
According to management personnel at the state Department of Transportation (MoDOT), there’s a divide between urban dwellers and those who live in the countryside. Each thinks the other is being super served, while they’re suffering with substandard roads.
Freshman state House Republican Bruce Degroot of Chesterfield says people in his suburban St. Louis district are highly skeptical they are properly funded.
“The general consensus of the people that I spoke to that wanted to talk about roads and bridges felt that roads and bridges needed to be fixed, and that they were generally in worse shape in the St. Louis area than they were in the rural areas” said Degroot. “And they wanted to know why.”
Missouri’s transportation system is divided into seven districts for roads. Of those, the St. Louis region receives the largest allocation for funding – $293 million per year. St. Louis, which has the largest population base, also has the most concentrated distribution of money since it has the smallest land mass.
Kansas City, which is the second most populated region, gets $272 million, while the southwest region, which includes Springfield and Joplin, receives $214 million.
MoDOT Director Patrick McKenna contends the complaints about poor roads and suspicions of regional favoritism are byproducts of insufficient funding.
“All of these arguments that are centered on reallocating the funds, are diversions from the primary issue, which is the fact that we haven’t kept pace with inflation on the rates that we’re paying into the transportation network” said McKenna. “And it’s starving the entire system.”
The current motor fuel tax of 17 cents-per-gallon hasn’t been raised since 1996. Many of the licensing and registration fees, the other major funding source for roads, haven’t been increased since the 1960’s. MoDOT has pegged the need for additional funding at $825 million-per-year.
GOP House member Degroot accepts that the St. Louis region is getting the largest chuck of road funding. But he claims he can’t find out if the arrangement is fair because MoDOT won’t reveal how much money the region contributes to road funding.
“How much do we put in the pot? Nobody could tell me, which sounds crazy. I said I run my own family’s finances, and I know that’s on a much smaller scale than a state budget, but certainly you should know where your money comes from. And nobody could tell me, which raised all sorts of red flags to me.”
McKenna counters that MoDOT has no knowledge or control over how money is collected. “I’m not the Department of Revenue. I don’t collect the revenue. We receive the amount of money in the state road fund. We forecast that total amount of money. And then we allocate based of those factors.”
According to McKenna, distribution of money for roads is based on components that reflect the total miles traveled in each of the state’s seven regions.
“We use population. We use employment data. We use miles of road. We use square footage of bridge deck. And we use vehicle miles traveled. Those are the primary criteria that we use to allocate resources to each of our regions.”
Degroot remains unconvinced that St. Louis is being fairly treated because he can’t get an accounting of how much money the region is pouring into to the road fund.
“What I’m afraid of, and it makes me very suspicious that they won’t give me that number, I think we’re putting a significant amount more than what we’re getting out.”
Degroot has written a letter expressing his suspicions to the 21st Century Missouri Transportation System Task Force. The Task Force was established in a bill passed by the state legislature this year. It’s charged with figuring out how much money the state can raise for roads and determining how that funding will be acquired.
It’s composed of nine Missouri residents, along with two state senators, two House members, and designees from the Governor’s office, MODOT, the Missouri Highway Patrol and the Department of Economic Development.
The task force is holding its next in a series of monthly meetings is Wednesday, August 23rd in Springfield. It’ll take at the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce, 202 S. John Q. Hammons Parkway at 1:00 P.M.