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MLK Bridge to close come Monday

A span of the Martin Luther King Bridge frames the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge on Friday, July 17, 2015, as light traffic crosses in its remaining days of being open. Illinois Department of Transportation announced it will close Monday until late November for deck replacement, painting and structural reinforcement. Drivers should use the Musial Bridge as a detour. Photo by Christian Gooden, cgooden@post-dispatch.com

JEFFERSON CITY • A plan to boost the state gas tax inched forward in the Missouri Senate Wednesday.

On a 6-0 vote, members of the Senate Transportation, Infrastructure and Public Safety Committee endorsed a proposal to increase the state’s 17-cent-per-gallon motor fuel tax by 1.5 cents for most motorists and 3.5 cents for diesel users.

The measure would generate an estimated $80 million, with $56 million going into state coffers to help pay for road and bridge improvements, said state Sen. Doug Libla, a Poplar Bluff Republican sponsoring the change.

Although Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon supports for the increase, it faces a questionable future in the House.  Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, said Republicans who control the chamber are not backing a tax hike.

“We believe, in the House, that we ought to try to hold the line on taxes and live within our means,” Richardson told reporters last week.

There are nearly 10,400 bridges on the state highway system and about 60 percent are older than their intended useful life of 50 years. Business groups, including the trucking industry and gas station owners, agree that an increase in funding is needed.

Libla said he is encouraged House leaders are acknowledging the need for more revenue for transportation. But, he said a tax hike is the fairest way to finance repairs and upgrades.

“It’s not a new idea. It’s a user tax. Since 1924, this is how Missouri voters have said they want to fund roads and bridges,” Libla said. “Turning your back on the situation is not going to make them safer.”

Groups also are currently circulating petitions asking voters in November to raise the tobacco tax to pay for transportation needs.

Libla said Wednesday he is unsure when the measure might come up for debate in the full Senate.

The legislation is Senate Bill 623.

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Kurt Erickson is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch