At the Missouri Department of Transportation, we spend every day taking care of Missouri's roads and bridges. We also make sure Missourians can get safely from one place to another, by car, plane, bus, bike, foot or train. We help businesses move their products across the state and across the country.
Missouri's transportation system is huge. We have more state highway miles than Kansas and Illinois combined. We rank sixth nationally in number of bridges. We are fourth in the nation for tons of freight carried by rail.
It's a tall order to keep all that running smoothly, to keep everyone safe and to help businesses prosper. And right now, Missouri faces an impending crisis. In a matter of just a few years, the transportation system we've come to rely on may fail us.
How did we get here? With people driving more fuel efficient vehicles and driving fewer miles, the fuel taxes that fund transportation now represent a declining revenue stream.
Even as the price of gas rises, Missourians still only get 17 cents per gallon to support transportation, and that amount hasn't changed in 20 years. Worse yet, the purchasing power of that 17 cents is only worth 8 cents today!
Over the last three years, MoDOT has made some tough cuts to personnel, facilities and equipment and has saved more than $500 million. But we know we cannot cut our way to a functional, safe and prosperous transportation system.
We know it takes about $485 million every year to maintain the system of highways and bridges we have now. If nothing changes, by 2017, the revenue will drop to $325 million, and Missouri's roads and bridges will deteriorate.
That's why we support any additional funding that allows us to deliver the types of transportation improvements that Missourians want and need.
This spring, the Missouri General Assembly passed legislation that would allow Missouri voters to approve a temporary ¾-cent sales tax for transportation. On Aug. 5, Missourians will go to the polls and decide if we should keep our families safe, create jobs and boost our economy by investing in much-needed transportation improvements.
New revenue from this temporary 10-year sales tax would be used for all transportation purposes. Decisions on how it would be spent are being prioritized at the local level, so every region of the state will see the benefits they need most.
The tax would not be collected on food, medicine or gasoline, and the state could not implement toll roads or raise fuel taxes during the 10-year period. Cities and counties would get their share, too, splitting an estimated $54 million per year.
It takes a great deal of support to keep Missouri moving forward. As a leader in MoDOT, I take great pride in the way the department operates, and I am proud that despite our challenges, MoDOT is a leader in transportation innovations.
We strive to work faster, safer and more efficiently. With additional resources, we will be able to preserve the system and services we enjoy today, make all Missouri travelers safer, provide the types of transportation improvements that spur economic growth and create jobs and give Missourians more transportation choices.
Paula Gough is MoDOT Northeast District engineer.