Task Force begins work toward finding a solution for Missouri transportation funding

A legislature-created task force has held its first hearing toward the goal of finding a long-term solution for Missouri’s need for transportation funding.

Representative Kevin Corlew (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The 21st Century Missouri Transportation System Task Force was created by the adoption of HCR 47, offered by Kansas City Republican Kevin Corlew.  He chairs the Task Force.

“Our roads are crumbling and our constituents are grumbling.  There seems to be a consensus that we need to do something but as of yet there’s been no consensus about what needs to be done,” said Corlew.  “That’s what this task force is about – determining if we have a need and then finding a solution with broad-based support.”

The task force heard a presentation from the Director of the Department of Transportation Patrick McKenna in which he outlined the funding issue facing the state’s transportation system.

“Nearly $55-billion of taxpayer dollars have gone into developing the really extraordinary system that we benefit from today – 34-thousand miles of road and 10,400 bridges that the state owns.  It’s the seventh largest system in the nation and it’s funded at 47th in the nation in terms of revenue per mile,” said McKenna.

McKenna also reiterated what many lawmakers already know about Missouri’s bridges – many are in need of repair.  He said about 1,300 have restrictions on how much weight can be on them because of their condition.  866 more bridges are considered to be in “poor condition.”

“We also have 207 ‘major bridges’ in this state … we define those as greater than 1,000 feet in length … In the next 10-years, with our asset management plan, we know we have to replace or repair 62 of those by age and condition, and we’re funded at about 1.2 a year,” said McKenna.

Missouri Department of Transportation Director Patrick McKenna (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Task force members and those who testified, not including McKenna, shared the opinions that have framed the transportation funding debate in recent years.  Some spoke for or against increasing Missouri’s motor fuel taxes.  Others spoke about other possible solutions such as different ways of utilizing the tax money the Transportation Department already receives.  Still others commented on the possibility of public-private partnerships and tolling.

Ron Leone, the executive director for the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, told the committee he didn’t expect it to come up with any new possible solutions beyond those that have been debated before.

“I kinda have a feeling that even though you’re going to be going down this path for the next six, seven months, you’re ultimately going to have just a certain number of tools in your toolbox.  I don’t think you’re going to uncover any silver bullets that no one has thought of to date,” said Leone.

Corlew is more optimistic that the task force could come up with some new possible approaches or combinations of approaches

“I think that every day as technology increases and as people really put their minds together and think creatively that there’s innovation coming out.  We’re seeing it throughout the country, new ways of funding things.  I don’t have a hidden gem right now, but that’s the purpose of this task force – is to get input from the public, to get input from other states, and find out, are there new mechanisms?”  said Corlew.  “I’m not at a place where I’d say we won’t uncover anything new.”

Corlew said one reason he proposed this task force was because the legislature wasn’t making much progress towards a transportation funding solution in recent sessions.

“It’s very important that we take this seriously,” said Corlew.  “The reason why this task force was made up with the people that it is – that is legislators, the governor, the MODOT director, and with private citizens – is that it can be something that not only do we come out with proposals to talk about, but proposals that we as a legislature and the governor’s office can act upon.”

Corlew intends for the task force to have proposals ready for consideration by the legislature in its 2018 regular session.  It will hold more sessions throughout the state in the next few months.