Missouri legislature considers MoDOT funding options

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JEFFERSON CITY — For years, the Missouri Department of Transportation has said it doesn't have enough money. Now, the department is dipping into its reserves to pay for projects.

"They need about another $160 million a year, $170 million a year, to keep up with preservation, maintenance of the current system," state Sen. Doug Libla, R-Poplar Bluff, said.

One of the biggest issues MoDOT faces is keeping up the state's bridges. This map shows all of the 641 bridges considered in critical condition in the state.

Here is a list of the location of each critical bridge.

Libla said that's a scary problem because those bridges could close at any time. "It means long detours. It means maybe not having a job. It means when you need an ambulance to come to your house, it may have to detour 10 to 15 minutes."

That's why Libla proposed a 5.9 cent gas tax increase (SB 623). He estimated it would raise about $250 million dollars a year, and around $160 million of that would go to MoDOT.

In its 2015 Financial Snapshot, MoDOT projected a five cent increase would raise around $200-million dollars. The latest census data showed Missouri has a little more than 6 million residents. So while some people drive more than others, it comes out to an average of $41.23 per person each year. It would cost around 70 cents more to fill a 12 gallon tank.
    
Another option proposed in MoDOT's financial reports is raising the sales tax. If the state raised it by 3/4 of a cent, it could generate and estimated $585 million a year, but that plan would cost an average of $96.50 per person. Two years ago, Missouri voters defeated that proposal.

Libla hoped the gas tax will be easier to swallow at the ballot box because while the cost to maintain roads has gone up, the gas tax rate hasn't risen in 20 years.

"If I'm driving on a safer road that benefits me. I'm on the road every day, five days a week. Better roads will be better for Missouri," said Kyle Denkler, who plans to vote for the gas tax if it makes it on the ballot.

However, Ebon McBride said he would vote against it. "You can keep adding taxes and adding taxes and stuff is not happening."
    
Libla said even if the increase does pass it won't fix everything. "If you're trying to take this conversation to I-70, that's a $3-4 billion dollar project. So no, this is not going to be able to rebuild I-70 for 200 miles that needs to be done, but we need to start moving. We haven't done anything in the last 20 years."

Another option that has been brought up in the past is making I-70 a toll road to pay for improvements. States can't toll most interstate highways, but currently I-70 has an exception. However, Libla said that exemption will expire because the state hasn't made any progress on turning it into a toll road, so he doesn't think it's a viable option at this point.

He also doesn't think the legislature can realistically find the money it needs for modot in the general revenue budget.

The gas tax bill passed in the Senate. If it passes in the House or Representatives, it will be on the November ballot.

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