Looking for ways to pay the city’s share of the estimated $200 million it will cost to replace the aging Buck O’Neil Bridge downtown, Kansas City officials are eyeing money from the 1-cent sales tax for capital improvements.
The sales tax, which will be up for renewal on the April ballot, produces about $70 million a year for neighborhood conservation, bridge and street repair and facilities maintenance. It has rarely been used to finance major construction projects.
But the city needs $60 million to close the funding gap for a new bridge. Officials had considered selling bonds and charging tolls to pay off the debt, but rejected the idea as politically and financially unworkable. After asking voters to approve an $800 million general obligation bond package last year, there is little appetite on the City Council for going back to residents with proposals for new debt or taxes.
Shortly before Christmas break, the City Council’s government and finance committee unanimously approved ballot language for the sales tax renewal that includes the bridge project. The City Council is scheduled to consider the measure on Thursday. The city faces a Jan. 23 deadline for placing questions on the April ballot.
The state of Missouri has already pledged $100 million toward replacement of the span, formerly known as the Broadway Bridge. The Mid-America Regional Council, which distributes federal transportation funds, has committed $40 million.
It is not clear whether the sales tax, if renewed, would have to supply all of the remaining $60 million. The city has applied for $50 million in grants from two federal transportation programs: TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) and INFRA (Infrastructure for Rebuilding America).
Both programs are highly competitive, but officials said the city’s chances for a grant might be enhanced if it demonstrates the ability to provide local matching funds. Those could come from the capital improvements sales tax.
“It’s like the old saying that you don’t go to the bank for a loan unless you’ve got money already,” said Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner, who supports using sales tax revenue for the bridge.
The existing 62-year-old bridge carries about 44,000 vehicles a day on U.S. 169 over the Missouri River to and from the Northland. State transportation officials said it must be either extensively repaired or replaced. The city wants to avoid the repair scenario, which would close the bridge completely for as long as two years, miserably snarling commuter traffic. A partial closure for $6 million in critical repairs is already scheduled for this summer.
Under the replacement option, the current bridge could operate while the new one is under construction.
The sales tax was first approved by voters in 2007. Thirty-five percent of the revenue is evenly distributed among the six council districts for neighborhood conservation, improvement and maintenance, with 25 percent for street resurfacing, repair and construction. The remainder is earmarked for capital improvements.
The tax also funds the 13-member Public Improvements Advisory Committee (PIAC), appointed by the mayor and council to make recommendations on how to spend the funds.