FUNDING: Mo. commission OKs transpo plan but not sure about delivering

Revenues are falling and will soon be less than needed to maintain the system

Funding News MoDOT February 12, 2014
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The Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission has approved a new long-range transportation plan but cautioned that without additional resources the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) has very little chance of delivering it. That is because MoDOT revenues—largely tied to state and federal fuel taxes—are falling and MoDOT's available construction budget will soon be well below the $485 million per year that is needed to keep the state system of roads and bridges in the condition they are in today.

 

The federally required plan is designed to guide transportation decision making for the next 20 years. It was first presented to the commission in November and has been out for public review for the past three months. The plan, called "A Vision for Missouri's Transportation Future," was developed after an intense seven-month public engagement period that resulted in 12,000 project suggestions and operational priorities.

 

Based on the input received, four goal areas were established:

 

  • Take care of the transportation system and services we enjoy today;
  • Keep all travelers safe, no matter the mode of transportation;
  • Invest in projects that spur economic growth and create jobs; and
  • Give Missourians better transportation choices (more viable urban and rural transit, friendlier bike and pedestrian accommodations, improvements in rail, ports and airport operations).

 

"Over the past several months, the public told us we got it right," MoDOT Director Dave Nichols said. "Eighty percent of the folks we heard from told us they agree with this vision of transportation in Missouri."

 

The biggest change from the draft plan to that approved yesterday by the commission was a revised revenue forecast necessitated by uncertainty at the federal level. Previously it was forecast that distribution of federal funds would be flat going forward. Now, it is more likely that Missouri will realize a 19% decrease in federal funds.

 

From 2005-10, MoDOT's annual construction budget was about $1.3 billion. This year it is $685 million and by 2017 it will have fallen to $325 million—the lowest since 1992.

 

The reasons for the funding downturn are many. Fuel-tax revenues have become a diminishing revenue stream as cars become more fuel efficient and as people drive less, while the costs of doing business are increasing. Inflation has decreased MoDOT's purchasing power by more than 50%. What was 17 cents (state fuel tax per gallon) of purchasing power in 1992—the last time fuel taxes were increased—is now about eight cents and decreasing each year.

 

The costs of asphalt, concrete and steel are as much as 200% more than they were in 1992. And employee health care and retirements costs have also steadily risen. The looming insolvency of the federal Highway Trust Fund in August or September is a big reason, too.

 

The complete plan can be viewed at www.missourionthemove.org. Hard copies are also available.

 

"Transportation is an issue that touches everyone," Commission Chairman Joe Carmichael said. "Missourians have told us what they want, and it's more than what they have today. But the reality is that we will not be able to afford it. We'll continue to look to them for help in sharpening the vision for transportation in our state and finding ways to deal with our funding challenges."

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