With the 59-year-old Broadway Bridge as their backdrop, state and local officials Thursday morning held an event to decry the declining condition of the area road system, as outlined in a new study, and to call for raising Missouri’s gasoline tax.
Their concern: A proposal to boost the tax by 2 cents a gallon had been stalled in the Missouri Senate.
But on Thursday afternoon, a bill that would boost the gas tax by 1.5 cents a gallon got initial approval. If it becomes law, the state can avoid the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds.
Without that aid, congested spans such as the Broadway Bridge are less likely to be replaced, said Stephen Miller, chairman of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission.
“The failure to act this year will have dire consequences,” Miller said. “We cannot kick this can down the road.”
Deficient and congested roads, and those lacking “desirable” safety features, cost Missouri motorists $4.5 billion annually, according to the new study by TRIP, a Washington, D.C., research organization that focuses on surface transportation issues.
Financed by the insurance industry, construction companies, labor unions and others tied to road construction, TRIP found that 22 percent of major roads in Missouri are in poor condition.
More than half of the major roads in Kansas City are in poor or mediocre condition, according to the report, costing area drivers $1,327 a year in higher operating costs, repairs, lost time and fuel wasted because of congestion. The figure also includes the cost of traffic crashes “in which roadway features likely were a contributing factor.”
Miller said Missouri stands to lose $167 million in federal transportation dollars in the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2016, if it doesn’t boost state aid to transportation.
Raising the gas tax is the best way to do that in the short term, he said.
Others speaking in favor of additional road funding Thursday were David Warm, executive director of the Mid-America Regional Council, and Sheila Tracy, president of the Northland Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Opponents in Jefferson City have said that any hike in the gas tax should be put to a vote of the people, especially in light of last year’s defeat of a statewide sales tax measure that would have funded road construction. Recently it seemed unlikely the Senate would even vote on the measure.
But after hours of debate Thursday, senators voted 18-13 to grant initial approval to a bill that would raise the tax on diesel fuel by 3.5 cents. Under the proposal, the state tax on gasoline would rise from the current 17 cents a gallon to 18.5 cents. According to The Associated Press, the bill would allow the state to match all available federal funds in fiscal year 2016-2017. It needs a second Senate vote before the House can take it up.
Some say the state should raise money by converting Interstate 70 and other highways to toll roads.
But Miller said it would be a decade before sufficient toll revenue began to roll in. Meanwhile, the state would lose out on federal dollars, which amount to $4 for every $1 in state revenue.
Among the TRIP study’s other findings:
▪ Missouri has the seventh-largest highway system in the nation, but it ranks 46th in revenue spent per mile.
▪ Some 23 percent of the state’s bridges show significant deterioration or do not meet modern design standards.
▪ Traffic congestion causes Kansas City motorists to spend 27 hours more time in traffic each year than they might otherwise.
The full report is at www.tripnet.org.