MODOT funding stagnant with no solution coming from legislature
JEFFERSON CITY - Officials both in and out of Missouri are identifying the state's infrastructure as a point of concern, but the General Assembly does not have immediate plans to address MODOT's funding for repairs.
Missouri features the 7th largest state-maintained road system, but has ranked in the bottom 10 in infrastructure funding per mile since 2011.
Rep. Bill Reiboldt, R-Neosho, the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said the future of MODOT's funding largely depends on where Gov. Eric Greitens and voters stand on the issue.
"There's no increases of any kind being discussed at the present time," Reiboldt said. "One thing we need to do with the new governor is to allow him time to get his administration intact and to see what his thinking is."
Greitens' press secretary Parker Briden did not return requests for comment.
Reiboldt said he would want to see the gas tax increased by 10 cents, but wants to get Greitens on board before making a push for it.
Part of the issue is the Hancock Amendment, a constitutional provision where voters must pass any tax increase of more than $50 million.
In 2014, voters rejected Amendment 7 which would've raised the sales tax to help with transportation projects.
As recently as the last legislative session, lawmakers in Jefferson City attempted to raise the gas tax in an effort to help MODOT cope with its aging transportation system.
"The problem is, the big elephant in the room is, is it's got a tax connotation to it," said Sen. Doug Libla, R-Popular Bluff.
Libla sponsored a gas tax increase bill last session which made it past the Senate, but stalled out in the house.
Libla said the general assembly has discussed using toll roads or increasing funding for MODOT from general revenue as alternatives to a gas tax, but it's largely been "a whole lot of talk about nothing."
Mike Schupp, the MODOT area engineer for Boone, Callaway, Cooper, Howard and Moniteau Counties, said, until MODOT's funding improves, the department will struggle to fund the infrastructure requests of Missourians.
"We have not seen a change in that gas tax in over 20 years," said Schupp.
The Missouri gas tax was last raised in 1996, and since then MODOT has faced the perfect storm of inflation and increased fuel efficiency in cars.
"As the price of concrete, steel, and asphalt have gone up, they continue to rise, we're staying pretty steady with our funds from the fuel tax," Schupp said.
The funding issues were manifested in the American Road and Transportation Builders Association's 2017 report. It said 13 percent of all of Missouri's bridges were considered "structurally deficient" in 2016.
This translates to more than 3,000 bridges statewide where "one or more of the key bridge elements, such as the deck, superstructure or substructure, is considered to be in 'poor' or worse condition."
MODOT maintains all of the state's bridges by inspecting them every two years, and it inspects bridges considered structurally deficient each year.
"Basically right now we're maintaining the system that we have in its current condition," Schupp said.
The maintenance and inspections can extend the life of those bridges, but there will come a point in the near future where they will need to be replaced, he said.
Those replacements will be largely funded by Missouri's gas tax. At 17 cents per gallon, it's the lowest of all of the gas taxes of Missouri's bordering states with the exception of Oklahoma at 16 cents.
Schupp said MODOT will struggle to find funding for replacements when the time comes.