A panel created by the Missouri Legislature this year held a three hour hearing on the road in Springfield this week.
During the first part of the 21st Century Transportation Task Force meeting, there was much interest in a presentation by a representative from the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce. Gary Salamido explained how the legislature in his state passed bills that allowed for $2.6 billion to be raised for transportation needs over two years.
Missouri lawmakers won’t be able to accomplish the same feat on their own. The Hancock Amendment requires voter approval before taxes or fees can be increased more than a certain annual limit, which now exceeds $102 million.
The Missouri Department of Transportation has calculated that an additional $825 million is needed every year to adequately fund the state’s roads.
The meeting finished with a parade of local officials and business interests expressing their thoughts on transportation issues.
And if the rest of the state is anything like southwest Missouri, there’s no interest in transferring lettered roadways to local control. The move is often brought up on the state level as a way to downsize what amounts to the seventh largest road system in the country.
In 1952, the legislature passed a one-cent fuel tax increase from 2 to 3 cents and agreed to take over maintenance of many county roads, which today are signed with letters. At 19,042 miles, lettered roads make up well over half of the 34,000 miles maintained by the state.
Springfield Mayor Ken McClure was first up to argue against localizing maintenance of lettered roads. He said it negatively impact cities and counties. “That merely passes the financial burden of the decaying roads onto local governments, and they are already hindered by unfunded needs,” said McClure.
Greene County Presiding Commissioner Bob Cirtin weighed in next on the issue. He said shifting upkeep of lettered roads to counties would endanger the jurisdictions. “This could bankrupt some of the counties, just this one thing. Please, please do not let that happen.” Cirtin pegged the cost of maintaining lettered roads in Greene County at $4 million.
Sara Fields, Executive Director of the metropolitan planning group Ozarks Transportation Organization, was cool to the idea. “WE do not support the state absolving itself of responsibility for road to the counties and cities” said Fields. “We believe that MoDOT has the track record of delivering great projects and the capability of maintaining the roads with some needed revenue increase.”
And Christian County Commission Ray Weter struck a skeptical tone when he inquired about the expense of managing the roadways. “The state, MoDOT…are they going to transfer equipment to the county? Are they going to transfer personnel to the county?”
At least one bill in the legislature this year, from Republican Senator Rob Schaaf of St. Joseph, called for lettered roads to be transferred from state to county control. The measure included language to send funding to cover the accompanying costs.
During the hearing, Transportation Task Force Chairman Kevin Corlew (R-Kansas City), noted the Hancock Amendment prevents the legislature from sending an unfunded mandate back to the local counties.
A comparison to all surrounding states shows that Missouri is impacted by its maintenance of lettered roads. Even Illinois, which has more than twice as many residents, manages less than half the miles of roadway.