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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Yes, we need mass transit, but we cannot neglect our highways

Tuesday, July 29, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:40 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 29, 2014

*In the list of 800 projects proposed by the Missouri Department of Transportation to be funded by the proposed sales tax, five appear to be for construction of new highways.

 

Chloe Ames submitted a well-constructed, well-written opinion piece opposing the proposed increase in the highway sales tax. ("Vote 'no' on highway sales tax; public transit is more important," Columbia Missourian, July 17, 2014.)

It is unfortunate that several of the premises upon which she bases her opposition to the increased highway sales tax are flawed in their reasoning.

First, she says, Missourians are "thirsty" for more public transit options. She bases this statement on the claim that there has been a 15.6 percent increase in bus ridership in St Louis.

While this may be a true statement, it is not placed into proper context. We need to know by how much, in that same period, individual and commercial traffic has increased in that same area.

In addition, we need to know if any other areas in the state have experienced similar increases in ridership and how those increases, if any, compare to increases in other traffic options.

Secondly, she states that Missourians want clean, healthy air and that more highways will mean more air pollution.

Again, we can assume that the first claim, that Missourians want cleaner, healthier air is true. But the second part of the statement does not follow upon the first.

I have seen no indication* that the proposed highway sales tax increase will be used to construct new highways. Rather, as I understand it, the funds will be used to maintain and to improve the safety of existing highways.

If there is an increase in traffic-related air pollution, it will be due to the inevitable increases in traffic loads on existing roadways.

Her third statement, that the proposed tax increase will encourage urban sprawl, is not supported by any corroborative data. Granted that there will continue to be an increase in urban sprawl, but that increase will most likely be due to the increasing demand for new homes and businesses related to population growth.

I fail to see how highways in and of themselves lead to increases in population.

Ms. Ames notes that paratransit is vitally important to rural areas. It is true that the aging rural population means an increase in the number of persons who can no longer drive themselves to health care facilities, or to shopping, recreation and other facilities.

But to get those individuals to those facilities rapidly and safely it is equally vital that the roads and bridges upon which those paratransit vehicles need to travel are in good repair.

She further claims that if the "rising demands" for public transportation are not met in Missouri, then people, jobs, education and spending power will relocate out of state.

Again, she offers no supporting data for this claim. In addition, she ignores the very real fact that if Missouri's highways and bridges are not improved, and manufacturers and other businesses cannot easily and safely get their goods to remote markets, then we will see an exodus of those assets to other states.

Toward the end of her piece, Ms. Ames returns to the claim that Amendment 7 will lead to an increase in new road construction (a point disputed above) with a resulting loss in agricultural property.

But she ignores the fact that without a safe and efficient way to get agricultural products from rural production areas to urban processing and distribution centers, farms and farmers will suffer.

While I agree with her premise that for the long-term well-being of our people, our country and our planet, we need to increase mass transit programs and reduce vehicular air pollution, we need not achieve that goal by neglecting our very necessary highways and bridges.

That would be exceedingly short-sighted. I support the passage of Amendment 7 but will also welcome efforts to redirect our transportation program and to reduce the amount of vehicular air pollution.

March Warn lives in Columbia.


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