Missouri’s highway system ranks 7th in the nation, with 33,702 miles of state highways. Our major roadways consist of approximately 5,500 miles, of which 1,500 miles are interstates that carry roughly 80% of our state’s traffic. Minor roadways consist of just over 27,000 miles and carry approximately 20% of our state’s traffic. There are also 10,405 bridges, with an average age of 46 years. Of these bridges, 2,200 are deficient and come with a projected replacement cost of $5 billion. Each year 100 new bridges are added to this list.
Furthermore, with 53, Missouri ranks first in the nation for having major river crossings. Not only are these big bridges expensive to build, but they are also very expensive to maintain. If routine maintenance is done, their maximum life expectancy ranges from 75 to 100 years. An example of the type of maintenance required is the work being done on the older of the two bridges that crosses the Missouri River leading into Jefferson City from the north. That particular bridge is being closed this month, as $9 million worth of work is set to begin.
Missouri has more miles of roads than Iowa and Illinois combined. Perhaps the biggest challenge in funding for our state’s roadways is the need to improve I-70, the most heavily traveled road between St. Louis and KC. I-70 is one of the original interstates, and a large portion of it was built in the 1950s. Today, it is in serious need of repair and expansion to make it into a 6-lane thoroughfare in order to more safely accommodate its heavy traffic load. One funding proposal being discussed for it is the public-private partnership. This consists of a contractual agreement between MoDot and a private sector entity in which the “skills and assets of both parties would be used” to provide funding for improvements for I-70. The investors would be repaid from a toll charged to those using the highway, and the process would provide operation monies and funding for future maintenance requirements.
Several bills have been put forward to address the critical need of additional road funding. First, in 2014, voters rejected the 3/4 of a cent sales tax. Then there was a proposal to raise the fuel tax by 1.5 cents per gallon on gasoline and 3.5 cents per gallon on diesel. This proposal did not make it through the General Assembly. Last week Senate Bill 623 was passed out of the Missouri Senate. It sought to add 5.9 cents per gallon on both gasoline and diesel fuel. This sizable tax increase will need to be given the go-ahead by the Missouri House before it can go to a vote of the people in 2016. If approved at the polls, it will take effect on January 1, 2017, bringing the total state tax on gasoline and diesel to 22.9 cents per gallon. Each 1 cent per gallon increase in funds equals $39 million per year in revenue, of which 70% of the money goes to the state, 15 % goes to counties, and 15% goes to cities to help improve roads.
In addition to dealing with roadways and their funding requirements, members of the Missouri House this past week acknowledged the thousands of our state’s families who continue to need support as they raise children with autism. April is Autism Awareness Month in Missouri, and April 2 was World Autism Awareness Day. Our state’s General Assembly has continually supported efforts to provide the necessary resources to families with autistic children. In the fiscal year 2017 state operating budget the House approved $5 million to expand Thompson Center for Autism in Columbia. The House also approved an additional $1 million in the budget to create the autism clinic at Truman State at Kirksville, plus $500,000 to expand services at Mercy Kids Autism Center in St. Louis.
As the fastest growing developmental disability in the U.S., autism affects more than 3 million individuals, many of them children. The disorder is believed to be the result of a developmental defect affecting normal functioning of the human brain. It can result in a lifetime impairment of a person’s ability to learn, to interact in a socially acceptable manner, or to understand verbal or non-verbal communication. Early diagnosis and appropriate care are vital to allow individuals with autism to lead happy, healthy lives and to help them achieve their fullest possible potential.
While transportation funding and individuals with autism do not seem to have any logical connection, they were just two of the numerous topics with proposed bills that were discussed last week. I will keep you updated as to their progress.