Tons of tolls not needed to fix roads

Wednesday, August 29, 2007 | 9:03 a.m. CDT; updated 4:27 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Missourians are likely to have tolls to pay on certain highways around the state, according to a recent report in the Joplin Globe. This is good news, or should be, to those of us who want better highways. With high gas prices not easing traffic conditions, and state highway funds scarce, there appears to be a need for states to have more financial help with their highways.

This idea has come up previously in Missouri and has been voted down. Its proponents are hoping that the constant wear and tear by developments and population growth will persuade voters to change their minds. And, say the proponents for toll roads, several neighboring states have tolling authority.

As for the conditions of highways, roads and bridges in Missouri, there must be evidence to support that the state lacks the funds to keep them up. Money normally piles up in state (and national) coffers while lawmakers groan about the lack of funds and constantly want to raise taxes. Why don’t they regularly let the people know about the inadequacy of funds and, in some cases, surpluses sitting unused?

The federal government is the worst culprit in this respect, but the states are also guilty.

We don’t need tolls for our roads. What we need are legislators and managers who take action before bridges fall and roads cave. There’s money for that, and the legislators know it.

It is true that Missouri’s highways are among the nation’s worst. So, why hasn’t the state done something about it beyond a little patchwork here and there? No will; that is the answer. There is no commitment to infrastructure upkeep statewide. There’s money for roads and bridges; why has it not been used? It can be done without tolls. What will be the next suggestion, toll bridges? Maybe Columbia could make local bridges over Hinkson Creek or the neat little one behind the Chamber of Commerce into toll bridges.

And another idea to raise money: Why not charge tolls on sidewalks and even city streets?

Why not have toll booths at the entrances or exits to the Katy Trail? And why not tolls to use the city parks?

There is no end to the ways governments can bilk the public. What we need are public servants who are able to think of them. But what, you might ask, would be done with the additional amounts of money clattering into the public coffers? City, state, and national government could invest it, pile it up somewhere, for possible use in 2050 or later.

Another fundraising possibility: Why not charge families with children for school bus use? These busses, of course, would not have to pay the street tolls. But bus-riding fees imposed on parents would raise a lot of revenue for the schools. Then they could pay the teachers (and administrators) more so that they could, using their private cars, afford the high bridge and highway tolls.

Actually I think tolls (for users only) is not such a bad idea. But if we get them, we should also see our taxes decrease significantly.

Merrill, a professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism, has written and taught around the world and here in Columbia for more than 50 years.

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