MoDOT short on funds for new 20-year plan

Thursday, April 12, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:45 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri’s transportation system needs about twice as much money as it’s expected to get over the next couple decades, according to a new long-range plan released Wednesday.

The 20-year cost for needed maintenance and improvements to Missouri’s highways, bridges, bus systems, airports, railroads and river ports comes to more than $37 billion. By comparison, the projected transportation revenues over that time amount to $19 billion.

The gap is “a staggering number,” said Pete Rahn, director of the Missouri Department of Transportation.

It’s unlikely the state can raise enough money to meet all its transportation needs, which were derived from public suggestions and the priorities of local planning organizations, Rahn said. But lawmakers already are looking at ways to raise some additional money.

Unlike the department’s five-year plan, which is updated annually, the long-range plan does not commit money to any particular projects. Instead, it makes broader projections.

The 20-year plan projects a need for:

  • $16.3 billion to expand the highway system by adding lanes or constructing new roads, including $7.2 billion to rebuild Interstates 70 and 44.
  • $11.8 billion to maintain adequate conditions on existing state highways.
  • $4 billion for public transportation, including bus and light rail systems.
  • $3.5 billion to maintain bridges in adequate conditions.
  • $1 billion for passenger rail service, such as Amtrak.
  • $710 million for airports.
  • $60 million for river ports.

Those cost estimates are based on current dollars, meaning inflation could drive the actual cost significantly higher — perhaps doubling the total to around $64 million, according to the long-range plan.

“The danger in a number like that is it’s so large that a possible reaction to that is we can’t do it all, so let’s do nothing,” Rahn said. “The challenge is to come up with something that can be done.”

Without additional money, the department will have to focus primarily on taking care of the existing system. Machelle Watkins, the department’s transportation planning director, said the agency intends to work with local transportation planning groups to come up with two scenarios of what could be accomplished with additional money — one using a lower and the other a higher dollar figure.

In the General Assembly, the chairman of the House and Senate transportation committees each have their own tax proposals.

Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, proposed a 1-cent sales tax for 10 years to complete the $7.2 billion rebuilding of Interstates 70 and 44.

Rep. Neal St. Onge, R-Ballwin, has proposed to increase the sales tax by 1/2 cent, raise the fuel tax by 4 cents a gallon, impose a new sales tax on fuel and also raise fees for license plates. His plan would generate about $4.3 billion.

Neither of the legislative plans appears likely to pass this year. But lawmakers said they wanted to start a discussion about the proposals in hopes of getting something on the ballot as soon as 2008.

The transportation department’s long-range planning process included a random telephone survey of 3,100 adult Missourians in 2005. A solid majority said they opposed higher taxes, even if the money is earmarked for transportation, according to the report released Wednesday.

“There is an overarching finding of the survey — Missourians want transportation improvements, but they do not want to pay additional fees or taxes for them,” said the department’s long-range planning document.

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