Missouri transportation panel backs campaign for higher fuel tax

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jun. 29, 2017 9:05 pm

BOWLING GREEN, Mo. -- Several members of Missouri's top transportation authority agreed Thursday that the federal fuel tax is not providing adequate funding for roads and bridges.

The Tri-State Development Summit has started a campaign to urge President Donald Trump and members of Congress to increase the 18.4-cent federal gas tax that was set in 1993. A position paper on that fuel tax was presented to the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission.

"Simply put, the purchasing power of the gas tax today is approximately 7 cents, compared to 1993," said Thomas A. Oakley, a member of the Tri-State Summit's steering committee.

Statistics from the Federal Highway Commission indicate the U.S. has an $836 billion backlog of needed repairs and improvements to roads and bridges and an additional $90 billion backlog for public transit systems.

Trump has proposed investing $1 trillion in infrastructure, with a mix of funding sources.

"We believe the best and easiest way to pay for highways is to increase the current federal user fee -- fuel tax -- and tie it to an inflation index," a letter from the Summit said.

Commissioner John Briscoe of New London agreed that the fuel tax needs to be raised. He said additional funding could help Northeast Missouri upgrade U.S. 54 from two lanes and allow for construction of the Hannibal Expressway.

Missouri Department of Transportation Director Patrick McKenna said the Summit's proposal is well done and needs to be circulated. McKenna said transportation funding is "a hard problem with an easy solution."

Commissioners also approved the five-year transportation plan. During fiscal 2018, which begins July 1, the state plans to spend $850 million for highways and bridges, $558 million for operations and maintenance and $115 million for multimodal transportation.

"Our legislature and the citizens of Missouri have told us loud and clear to take care of this system. This plan does just that," McKenna said. "We focus limited resources on maintaining current conditions through every region of the state. However, limited funding enables us to only tread water. We improve roads and bridges at the same rate that others fall into disrepair."

Larry Craig, executive director of the U.S. 36-Interstate 72 Corrdor Transportation Development District, told the commission that the final two payments to MoDOT should occur by the end of this year.

"We had a timeline to get paid off by the end of 2019. We're planning to do that this year," Craig said.

The TDD was formed after the residents of four counties voted to help share the cost with MoDOT of upgrading a 52-mile segment of U.S. 36 to four lanes. A half-cent sales tax was approved to generate $34.3 million toward the project.

"We'll pay the final $6.5 million this year" and then seek voter permission to dissolve the district, Craig said.

Thursday's meeting was held in the Bowling Green High School auditorium. The Highways and Transportation Commission meets in Jefferson City when the legislature is in session. It meets in different areas of the state during the rest of the year.