Missouri transportation commissioners have voted unanimously to adopt a drastically scaled-back road and bridge maintenance system, due to an ongoing drop in revenue.
The Missouri 325 system will provide full maintenance for only 8,000 miles of the state's roads and bridges, which would be considered "primary." MoDOT Director Dave Nichols says the new program begins immediately.
"We're only going to be able to do what we describe as 'preservation projects,' " Nichols said. "These are simply resurfacing projects and maybe a bridge replacement project on this primary system."
The remaining 26,000 miles of highways and bridges in Missouri are now classified as "supplementary"; their maintenance will be limited mostly to pothole repair and snow removal. Nichols says it would take an extra $160 million a year to treat all of Missouri’s roads and bridges as "primary." At this point, that money is not available.
"We're dealing with a funding mechanism that was approved in 1996, but we're trying to compete with costs that are...almost 20 years later," Nichols said.
That funding mechanism is Missouri's fuel tax, which is set at 17 cents a gallon.
After the vote, Nichols and commission members briefly discussed possible solutions for filling the $160 million funding gap. One suggestion: raising the state's fuel tax.
"You can increase the fuel tax two cents a gallon a year for three years," Nichols said. "That would achieve this $160 million (gap)."
Missouri's fuel tax can only be raised by lawmakers, who showed virtually no interest or support for the idea when Gov. Jay Nixon suggested it in his State of the State Address last month.
Nichols also brought up another option being backed by Nixon: turning Interstate 70 into a toll road.
"We use I-70 as an example," Nichols said. "It's a common issue all over the country.... How do you pay for the reconstruction of the interstate system that was built in the 1950s? The very first (interstate highway) construction project in the United States was on I-70 in St. Charles County, and it's time to replace it."
Some of the criticism against that proposal that tolls would only be collected between Wentzville and Blue Springs. That means that motorists who use I-70 solely in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas wouldn't have to pay.
"The tolling of (Interstate 70) is a serious proposal, (and) we believe anything that addresses (Missouri's) transportation system is going to take a multi-pronged approach," said Steven Miller, chair of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission. "We need to start somewhere."
The name "Missouri 325" comes from the estimated $325 million the state is projected to have annually by 2017 for road and bridge maintenance.
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