by Jim McCarty
Anyone who has ever crossed the Highway 19 bridge at Hermann knows the
routine. Take a deep breath. Keep your eyes pointed straight ahead. Dont
sneeze. Follow these rules or you might lose the mirror on the drivers
side of your vehicle.
The Highway 19 bridge
is 80 years old and long overdue for replacement. Its one of a long
list of Missouri bridges that are unsafe and in need of replacement. Its
also part of an equally long list of projects promised if voters say yes
to Proposition B Aug. 6.
Missouris General Assembly sent Proposition B to a vote of the people
after several years of wrangling over the best way to remedy the states
transportation woes. While many lawmakers had opinions on the solution,
most agreed something needed to be done.
In the legislative session when they debated this there was very
little discussion about whether roads need to be replaced or not,
says Jeff Briggs, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Transportation.
Everyone agrees it does. There are recent nationwide studies in
which Missouri comes out on the wrong end of the spectrum. We were rated
the third worst in the nation in terms of the states pavement conditions.
We are second worst in terms of percentage of deficient bridges.
Briggs says the states problem is twofold: Missouri has the nations
seventh-largest highway system with 32,000 miles of roadway and 10,000
bridges. However the state is near the bottom of the list in terms of
money to spend on road maintenance and construction.
more than $78,000 per mile of highway and Iowa invests almost $86,000
per mile. In contrast, Missouri spends less than $46,000 per mile on a
road system that is three times the size of these neighboring states.
Missouri ranks 43rd in the nation in its transportation revenue
per mile, Briggs says. And its been this way for a long,
long time. There is no way to take care of a system this size when you
dont have the funding you need.
Of considerable concern is Missouris 1,100 miles of interstate highway.
Missouri can claim rights to the first mile of interstate, part of I-70
in St. Charles County. Being first means we also have some of the oldest
highways in the nation.
A lot of these sections of pavement are 30 to 40 years old,
Briggs says. They are past due to be replaced and we havent
got the funds to do that. So weve gotten way behind.
Dangerous, rough, narrow, crooked, frightening these are all terms
used to describe Missouris crumbling highways. Proposition Bs
passage would deliver a half-billion dollar shot in the arm to fix Missouris
roads and bridges.
If it passes, $483 million per year would be generated by raising the
fuel tax from 17 cents a gallon to 21 cents and adding 1/2 cent to the
state sales tax. This would cost the typical family of four $88 a year
in sales tax and $30 a year in fuel tax according to MoDOT. Both taxes
would expire in 10 years unless extended by voters.
Among the measures promises:
100 percent of Missouris interstates would be upgraded to
14,000 miles of secondary roads would be resurfaced.
700 bridges would be repaired or replaced.
Highways 60, 36, 13 and 7 would be upgraded to four lanes.
100 new buses and vans would be purchased every year to meet rural
Ethanol and biodiesel producers would get $6 million a year to
encourage production of these alternative fuels.
Payments to counties and cities for local road and bridge improvements
would increase by more than $50 million a year.
The number of airports capable of landing jets will increase by
B passes, Hwy. 72 would be four lane from Rolla to Salem.
Rural areas are
well represented in the plan. Just fixing the deficient bridges would
allow heavy trucks hauling grain and milk to avoid detours. The addition
of four-lane roads like Highway 36 from Macon to Hannibal and highways
7 and 13 from Springfield to Kansas City would spur economic development
The $6 million included in the plan to boost ethanol and biodiesel production
will add value to corn and soybeans. And rural public transportation needs
would finally be addressed in a serious manner.
With a mission plan like that it would seem Proposition B would have few
detractors. In fact, its hard to find any orchestrated opposition
to the measure from the states many associations. Most are staying
neutral on the measure.
The Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, whose
members have a huge stake in the vote, is one group thats not taking
a position on Proposition B.
Its going to affect every Missourian but certainly its
going to affect all of my members, in particular the 4-cent increase in
the fuel tax, says Ron Leone, executive vice president of the Jefferson
City-based association. I think our members understand that the
future of Missouri is contingent upon a good road system. So whats
good for Missouri is good for Missouri businesses. So they want to leave
it up to the people.
Leone says his group lobbied hard to keep the fuel tax increase at 3 cents.
Had that compromise been reached, he says his members might have endorsed
He says some Missouri gas stations will find themselves at a competitive
disadvantage if Proposition B passes because motorists near border states
might fill up outside Missouri. This is especially true in the Bootheel
where Missouri already has a fuel tax disadvantage.
Leone says trust in the Missouri Highway Commission played a role in his
groups not opposing Proposition B. Gov. Holden appointed three
new members to that commission, Leone says. Our members have
a great deal of faith in those commissioners in particular in making sure
MoDOTs promises are kept, that the money is going to be used in
the way they promise its going to be used.
Accountability might decide whether Proposition B passes or not. Many
voters remember the last fuel-tax increase, a 6-cents-a-gallon hike in
1992 that was supposed to fund a 15-year expansion of the system. In 1998
that plan was scrapped when the highway commission declared that costs
were underestimated and the plan was severly underfunded.
Memories of that failed plan havent been forgotten by the Missouri
Farm Bureau. While Farm Bureau is also neutral on Proposition B, its members
passed a resolution calling for a change in the way highway dollars are
Their resolution calls for a return to the promises of the 15-year plan,
in particular a promise to extend four-lane roadways to every Missouri
town over 5,000 in population.
We recognized that additional funding is needed in the state,
says Estil Fretwell, Farm Bureaus director of public affairs. But
in order to gain public trust there ought to be certain steps taken to
address reform measures. Thats where we believe the shortcoming
is in Proposition B.
Farm Bureau also takes issue with the diversion of funds to agencies other
than MoDOT. In the past, several state agencies took a piece of the fuel-tax
pie. For example, in the past the state auditor, Department of Revenue,
Highway Patrol and other state agencies claimed some of the 17 cents a
gallon paid at the pump.
Proposition B would limit this diversion to only the patrol and revenue.
The Patrol currently gets $120 million from road taxes.
Fretwell said Farm Bureau argued for new sources of funding that didnt
come from the fuel tax for the Patrol, while acknowledging additional
funds were a good idea.
If B doesnt pass we will continue to make this as a strong
point, Fretwell says. We need to fund the Patrol in a way
that secures their funding, increases their funding, but doesnt
cause the confusion that fuel tax funds are not being used for road construction.
What will happen if B doesnt pass? Briggs says MoDOT has contingency
plans in place. Without the additional funding from Proposition B most
new construction will cease when funding from the sale of bonds runs out
in 2003. MoDOT will instead concentrate on taking care of what is already
After next year theres almost no new construction other than
finishing whats already started, he says. Our fundings
going to be limited and we are going to focus on taking care of our existing
Absent from future plans without Proposition B funds is money earmarked
for interstate repair. MoDOT wants to pump $110 million per year into
rebuilding our battered interstate system. If B fails MoDOT will return
Really the roads need more attention than that, Briggs says.
MoDOT will have some additional funding without Proposition B. This year
the General Assembly removed the sunset provision on the 6-cent gas tax
passed in 1992 that would have expired in 2008. Lawmakers also extended
the jet fuel tax set to expire in 2003 for another five years.
But these measures are a drop in the bucket compared to the need, MoDOT
officials say. Missouris voters are encouraged to study the issue
and voice their opinion Aug. 6.