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Tiered approach to fuel-tax hike gets Missouri Senate endorsement

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Missouri senators narrowly endorsed on Thursday a tiered approach to increasing the state fuel tax, the same day transportation officials continued their push for more funding with the release of a report saying that roughly a quarter of the state’s bridges and roads are in need of repair.

The fuel tax, currently 17 cents per gallon, would increase 3.5 cents per gallon for diesel and 1.5 cents for all other gas under the measure, which also would have the Missouri Department of Transportation look into a partnership with a private company to establish toll roads. The Legislature would have to approve any kind of partnership before it moved forward.

The tax hasn’t been increased for nearly 20 years.

The measure needs one more vote in the Senate before moving to the House, where a committee killed fuel tax increase legislation earlier this session.

“Something needs to happen this year,” said Greg Horn, a MoDOT district engineer for the St. Louis region, at a press conference at MoDOT’s Chesterfield office. “I would hate to see our tax dollars fund projects in other states.”

Horn was referring to the anticipated loss of federal funds. The department’s construction budget is expected to drop to $325 million in 2017, which means the state won’t be able to match available federal money. That same budget was $1.3 billion in 2009.

Federal money accounts for more than 40 percent of MoDOT’s budget. Each dollar spent on transportation improvements is matched by $4 in federal money, the department said.

In 2014, the state had about $700 million for construction and maintenance. It needs $485 million to maintain its network of roads in the current condition.

MoDOT approved earlier this year the “Missouri’s 325 System,” in which the state will use that $325 million to maintain 8,000 miles of primary roads such as interstates. The remaining 26,000 miles of roads were called “supplementary” and will see limited routine maintenance. Snow will be plowed, potholes will be filled and traffic signals will be kept running, but little else will be done.

The Thursday press conference was the second in less than a week in which MoDOT and other local officials made their case for what they say will be a public-safety crisis without more funding. It highlighted a report issued by TRIP, a Washington-based nonprofit transportation research group funded by the transportation industry.

The report found that 22 percent of the state’s major roads, including 19 percent of those in the St. Louis area, are covered by pavement that is poor condition. It also found that 23 percent of the state’s bridges are in need of repair — 13 percent are considered “structurally deficient,” which means a deck, supports or other components have significant deterioration, with the other 10 percent being “functionally obsolete,” meaning they don’t meet current highway design standards, often because of narrow lanes, inadequate clearances or poor alignment.

Voters rejected last year a three-quarters of a cent sales tax increase that would have provided about $5.4 billion over 10 years for roads and bridges as well as ports, railways and public transit.

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Alex Stuckey is a statehouse reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Related to this story

Missouri hasn’t devolved from the “Show Me State” to the “Show Me a Safe Way Out of This State” just yet, but it draws closer by the year to earning that sobriquet.

While the state's roads and bridges continue to deteriorate, lawmakers continue to dither over raising the revenue necessary to pay for maintenance and repairs.

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