MISSOURI voters have an opportunity Nov. 6 to end years of neglect and take a significant step toward investing in critical transportation and infrastructure improvements that will serve as catalysts for the future economic viability of the state.
A "yes" vote on Proposition D would increase the state's gas tax by a modest 2.5 cents per year over a four-year period, or by 10 cents overall by July 1, 2022. The proposal, when fully implemented, would generate an estimated $412 million a year to help pay for a backlog of sorely needed transportation-related expenses.
While the new revenue generated by the proposal admittedly would provide only about half of the estimated $825 million a year the Missouri Department of Transportation says it needs to adequately maintain its system, it would at least represent a start, and we strongly urge voters to support this measure.
Missouri has the seventh-largest highway system in the country with 33,856 miles -- it has more miles of state highways than Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas combined -- and the sixth-most number of bridges with 10,403, but ranks just 47th among the states for money available for transportation infrastructure.
That's because the last gas tax increase in Missouri took place in 1996. It was part of a hike of 6 cents per gallon approved by the Legislature in 1992 and phased in over four years, boosting the rate from 11 cents per gallon to 13 cents per gallon in 1992, 15 cents per gallon in 1994 and 17 cents per gallon in 1996.
However, because of inflation, Missouri's 17-cent gas tax -- the third lowest in the nation -- has the buying power of just 7 cents today. By comparison, the gas tax for neighboring Kansas stands at 24 cents, Nebraska at 28 cents, Iowa at 30 cents and Illinois at 37 cents. The average state rate this year is 30.27 cents per gallon, with Pennsylvania leading the nation at 58-cents-a-gallon.
To put in individual terms, Proposition D would amount to about $1.28 more per month for the average driver in the first year, or about $5.10 per month at the end of the four-year phase-in. And an attractive feature is that 30 percent of the money would go directly to cities and counties for road and bridge projects only.
There certainly is precedent for voters to support this transportation initiative.
Missourians approved Amendment 3 in 2004 to end about $160 million a year in diversions to purposes other than transportation. As required in that ballot measure, the state issued bonds and launched the largest highway improvement program in its history. MoDOT completed nearly 8,000 miles of highway improvements and 800 bridges.
Those funds were exhausted in 2010, however. In response, the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission a year later downsized MoDOT -- eliminating 1,200 jobs, closing three of 10 district offices, and selling properties and equipment -- because funding was about to plunge from $1.2 billion annually to $600 million a year.
The result is that many of the state's primary and secondary roads in Northeast Missouri and elsewhere are crumbling, and 1,253 bridges are weight restricted and dozens more are closed to traffic. The National Safety Council has given Missouri a grade of F, ranking it last in the nation for preventable crashes because of poor road and bridge conditions. Missouri's 15.5 road deaths per 100,000 population are well above the national average of 11.6.
Furthermore, the Federal Highway Administration estimates that each dollar spent on road, highway and bridge improvements returns $5.20 in the form of lower vehicle maintenance costs, decreased delays, reduced fuel consumption, improved safety, lower road and bridge maintenance costs, and reduced emissions as a result of improved traffic flow.
Those are among the reasons why the Republican-controlled General Assembly put the measure on the ballot. Gov. Mike Parson supports Proposition D, as does the Missouri Farm Bureau and many other organizations across the state.
They wisely realize that failing to act now will mean that roads and bridges will continue to deteriorate, business development will stall, highway safety will continue its precipitous decline and new construction will not occur.
That should not be acceptable to Missourians. A "yes" vote on Proposition D is a crucial step toward investing in the state's future, something we believe everyone can -- and should -- support.