The normal building of roads, improvements, maintenance and upkeep are paid for with a tax on gasoline and diesel at the pump. Vehicle taxes and fees are dedicated to repaying the bond debts. Missouri's fuel tax has been set at 17 cents since 1992. By way of comparison, Kentucky is 29 cents, Nebraska is 26, Kansas is 24, Arkansas and Iowa are at 21, and Illinois is 21 plus sales tax. Now remember, Missouri has far more paved roads than any of our neighboring states. To further aggravate the problem, fuel taxes are on the gallons purchased and usage has plummeted in recent years due to higher prices and better fuel mileage. This trend is only going to get worse as CAFE standards for fuel mileage continue to rise.
Most of the State's bridges were built in the 50's and 60's and have a 50-year life span. Remember, we have 10,000 of those bridges and rural areas have the oldest structures. Many of those bridges are in need of repair and more than a few are needing replacing. Our Interstates and 4 lanes are deteriorating and 70 needs to be totally rebuilt. As early as 2004, warnings were being sounded that funding would start to become very limited after fiscal year 2010. The other factor is the skyrocketing price of materials. Concrete is twice as high as 15 years ago and asphalt and steel are nearly 3 times the cost. To make matters worse, we are in danger of losing Federal matching funds.
So what are our options to provide the necessary funds? The public perception in far too many cases is that MoDot has adequate money but is spending it foolishly. The bonding money is long gone and all the projects that were undertaken from 2004 to 2010 were judged as "essential" by the taxpayers in those areas where the work was being done. They have sold buildings and reduced their work force. They are outsourcing much of the paving and overlay jobs. There are plans being looked at to outsource some mowing and brush control. By 2017, we will not be able to qualify for the matching funds. MoDot is ready to introduce their "325" plan which basically reduces the amount of roads and bridges getting full repairs to 25%. The plan allows for one north and south and one east and west artery in each county to get full service and all the other roads to receive patches only. How about the Legislature finding a fix? Because the Hancock Amendment will only allow the Legislature to increase taxes by less than $80 million, we have to put the issue to a vote of the people. Sure, we can increase gasoline by a cent and a half and diesel by three and a half and raise $54 million but we can only do it one time. The only way to provide for the infrastructure in the future is to get public involvement. We need to find a way to increase the funding by $300 million if we want to solve the problem. I have never been in favor of raising taxes but much like education and social services, there is no other way to provide the necessary funding. I hope to see a combination plan next session. We could possibly tie a diesel and gasoline tax with a modest sales tax percentage that excludes food and medicine. We simply cannot ignore this problem any longer and hope that it goes away. Every week there are bridges being ruled unsafe and more roads deteriorating. The bottom line is that the Governor and Legislature must work together to solve the problem and then make sure that the taxpayer understands the need. Over the next few months MoDot will be holding informational meetings. Please get informed and then let's work together to keep Missouri's great road system.