Missouri View Points - Keeping Missouri’s Highways Safe On A Budget

(St. Charles, MO) – No matter where you go, part of state government is always underneath your feet or, in this case, tires.

Missouri Department of Transportation officials have been warning for the last few years that funding will not always keep up with the cost of maintaining and expanding our roads and bridges.

Part of the reason is the current transportation funding approach, which relies on fuel taxes and sales taxes on vehicles. Auto sales aren’t what they used to be and cars are more fuel efficient, meaning less revenue for the state.

Taxpayers still need safe roads and strong bridges, though.

MODoT has already cut expenses and reduced its workforce to save money but those cutbacks won’t make up for the cost of road maintenance. On a recent “Missouri Viewpoints”, MODoT engineer Ed Hassinger explained how deep those cuts run.

“We’ve reduced the number of employees we’ve got by 1,200 people. We’ve closed 111 maintenance facilities around the state. We’re still delivering the service that we need to but we’re doing that in the most efficient way we can.”

Some road repairs in recent years were made is lighter materials that highway officials warned at the time would not last as long as typical repairs. The lighter material was used to reduce expenses. Those are expected to need attention in the next year or two in many places.

Rod Jetton, former state Speaker of the House, also gave his thoughts on the future of Missouri’s road system during the program. Jetton chaired a statewide commission assigned to study the needs and possible solutions lawmakers should consider.

He thinks the recent short-term approach can’t be repeated if we hope for long-term growth in the state.

“In two, three years that pavement’s going to start wearing out. The state’s growing and we want to increase our economic activity. It’s going to take some more roads, more overpasses, bypasses, more bridges and things like that. We’re just not going to have the money to do it.”

Among the ideas the commission heard from citizens and interest groups include additional sales takes, additional licensing fees and a number of other ways to generate revenue.

That’s not always an easy sell to Missouri voters who are often reluctant to raise taxes for anything.

The commission’s report has already been given to the Legislature.

Leaders of both parties agree that how to proceed with the state’s transportation needs, both current and future, are among the top decisions that need to be made in the current session.

Note: The “Missouri Viewpoints” interviews were recorded prior to the Blue Ribbon Commission’s report being finalized and given to the State Legislature.