MoDOT Official: If Transportation Tax Rejected, Agency Downgrades to “Maintenance Mode”

Jul 9, 2014

Credit KSMU archives

The Missouri Department of Transportation’s Southwest District will use $640 million for various repairs over the next 10 years should voters approve a sales tax increase in August. KSMU’s Scott Harvey has more.

The figure accounts for a fraction of the $4.8 billion total in statewide projects approved Wednesday by the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission. The list is comprised of over 800 projects to address state roads, bridges and other modes of transportation over the next decade. Local governments would also get a share of the money for their own transportation initiatives.

The biggest project would widen 200 miles of Interstate 70 between St. Louis and Kansas City.

Locally, $62 million would go toward upgrading Routes 249 and 171 to interstate standards in the Joplin area. In Springfield, proposals to widen sections of James River Freeway and Highway 65 would cost at least $24 million apiece.

Becky Baltz is the district engineer for MoDOT Southwest.

“If this does not pass what we know is we will be going to maintenance mode. We will be doing resurfacing projects, we will be doing a few bridge replacements, but we won’t be any of the really tremendous projects that will help economic development and growth in our communities,” Baltz said.

That’s because if the agency’s budget stays as is, MoDOT is predicting just $350 million available each year to put toward its construction program. Baltz says it takes about $485 million a year just to keep the state’s current system in good condition.

To pass, voters would need to approve a three-quarters cent sales tax increase.

Opponents of the measure, including Governor Jay Nixon, feel the tax would fall most heavily on lower income Missourians. Others like the recently formed group Missourians for Better Transportation Solutions says it’s the trucking industry that benefits most from and does the most damage to the state’s roads, yet “will pay practically nothing” if a sales tax increase is passed.

“No matter what if the cost of transportation is more expensive that will be related to cost of goods in some way,” Baltz contends. “So if it’s a fuel tax and it’s going to cost the trucking industry more, then you’re still gonna pay for that in the price of the products you purchase. If it’s a sales tax you pay for it in the price of products you purchase.”

Baltz added that the sales tax, if approved, would not apply to items such as groceries and prescription medications.

The transportation sales tax measure, known as Amendment 7, is one of five constitutional amendments before voters on August 5.