State lawmaker considers tax increase to fix Missouri bridges
JEFFERSON CITY — A state representative said nothing is off the table, including a possible gas tax, in the wake of a new report showing Missouri has the fourth most structurally deficient bridges in the nation.
The American Road and Transportation Builders Association's 2017 report says nearly 3,200 Missouri bridges, or about 13 percent, are classified as structurally deficient.
Nearly 3,000, are considered functionally obsolete, according to the report. A structurally deficient bridge has one or more key elements "considered to be in 'poor' or worse condition."
More than 850 of the bridges are owned and maintained by the Missouri Department of Transportation. The other bridges are owned and maintained by local municipalities throughout the state.
The chairman of the House Committee on Transportation, Rep. Bill Reiboldt, R-Neosho, said funding is always an issue and planning hasn't kept up with inflation. He said a gas tax increase perhaps could have helped avert the problem.
Missouri's 17 cent per gallon gasoline tax, which has not been raised since 1996, is one of the lowest in the nation.
MoDOT Director Patrick McKenna said that 17 cents only goes about half as far as revenue did in 1996.
"So we really only have about a half of the revenue on a purchasing power basis," he said.
MoDOT's funds come from gasoline taxes, vehicle registration fees and taxes on automobile sales. The federal government also provides 80 percent matching funds and MoDOT receives $18 million from general revenue out of a nearly $2.5 billion budget in the 2016 fiscal year.
According to MoDOT, Missouri drivers pay around $30 per month on average, but it costs nearly $170 per driver per month to maintain the MoDOT-owned roads.
"No one likes to pay higher taxes. When I look at infrastructure, it's one of those core issues, though, that bring the investment actually sows the seeds for economic development and increasing standard of living for regions that do those investments," McKenna said.
Reiboldt said, "We need to really be looking at some future needs. We need to be forward thinking. I think in transportation, we need to be looking ten years down the road."
Reiboldt said any major gas tax increase would require citizen approval.
Despite the recent report on bridge conditions, McKenna said Missouri bridges are still safe.