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Article / Roadblocks

Roadblocks.


By Leonard Toenjes

The buzzword of the last several weeks is Infrastructure.  At the national level, President Trump offered his proposal largely based on state, local, and private investment. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has called for a 25-cent per gallon gasoline tax increase to keep the federal Highway Trust Fund solvent.  At the state level, no less than 24 bills have been introduced in the House and Senate with just as many differing approaches to funding Missouri’s infrastructure and transportation system.  They are all slogging through the various steps of the legislative process needed to bring this issue to some decision.  No less than seven different initiative petition proposals also have been filed with the state.  

Late in 2017, a joint House/Senate 21st Century Task Force traversed Missouri with a series of public hearings concerning infrastructure and transportation needs.  At their first meeting, MoDOT Director Patrick McKenna appeared with all of the task force studies that have been completed since the most recent increase in infrastructure funding in Missouri.  It was a very large stack.

Missouri has far too many studies and far too little action.  It’s our policymakers’ inaction that is costing our state jobs, economic development and a clear pathway forward to revitalize Missouri.  Whenever I speak with these elected officials, they concur that there are great needs but little public support for increasing user fees.  

All of this brings to mind a simple question: How bad does it have to get before action is taken?  For example, MoDOT has plans to make seriously needed repairs to I-270 in north St. Louis county.  This $750,000,000 project is needed to address 50- year -old roads that are now a critical link in a freight network that can bring economic development to St. Louis and to the state as a whole  Available funding for this project is less than 25 percent of the cost, so the project waits.  This is just one example of the unfunded needs across our state.

Missouri cannot afford to wait for the federal government to bail us out.  We already receive over 65 percent of our current transportation funds from the Highway Trust Fund.  MoDOT is running a very effective department with the limited and shrinking funds they do have. 

The Missouri legislature needs to do the job they are elected to do. which is make a decision, show leadership, and allow the citizens of Missouri the opportunity to vote on a method to address this shortfall. 

A more effective approach to funding these needs (which by the way are moving forward in many other states) can only lead to a stronger economy and an improved quality of life so important to bringing jobs and businesses into our state.

It’s time for our legislators to act and let the people decide. Inaction and lack of public support is merely leading to more stacks of paper defining our growing needs and more years of Missouri falling behind. 

Len Toenjes is president of AGC of Missouri.