Missouri’s transportation revenue totaled almost $2.5 billion in fiscal year 2016, and construction contracts are expected to average $800 million a year in the coming years.
So it’s not a surprise that one of the most frequent questions that Patrick McKenna, director of the Missouri Department of Transportation, fields is why contractor awards don’t account for a bigger piece of the pie.
In an effort to answer that, his department on Wednesday published online the “Citizen’s Guide to Transportation Funding.” The goal is to make complicated funding and transportation lingo more accessible to Missourians.
“We’re answering the fundamental policy questions that exist and must be answered before people are willing to invest,” McKenna said.
It’s a new way to illustrate what the department has been saying for years — that it can’t do needed projects without more money. Such projects include building and repairing bridges. Efforts to hike the state’s 17-cent gas tax, which hasn’t been raised in 20 years, have failed.
That tax in the last fiscal year brought in $698 million of revenue, about one-half of all Missouri user fees collected.
About two-thirds of the state’s transportation funding comes from state user fees, with the remainder from federal revenue. MoDOT got $318 million in vehicle registration and license fees and $398 million in taxes on vehicle sales.
A push to raise the state’s fuel tax — a measure that failed in 2015 and met with resistance before lawmakers even convened in Jefferson City last January — again fell short this year.
And the agency has dialed back on spending — about five years ago, MoDOT averaged annual construction awards of $1.2 billion.
The new website doesn’t gloss over MoDOT’s history of taking on debt, which includes borrowing $143 million for a portion of our new Highway 40 (Interstate 64) in fiscal year 2009. The next year, it added another $100 million in debt for the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge, and $685 million for bridges.
The Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission, which oversees MoDOT, had $2.3 billion of outstanding bonds as of June 30, according to the new guide.
That guide also has a calculator so you can see what you pay monthly in taxes and fees toward transportation system.
I live 5 miles from work, so I don’t rack up a lot of miles commuting. Estimating that I drive about 9,000 miles in Missouri a year and that my car averages 25 miles per gallon, the website figured that my monthly contribution to transportation funding is $14.26. Of that, $1.58 goes toward debt repayment with $7.96 paying for state roads and bridges.
McKenna used the calculator too. The father of three teens said he spends 12 times on cellphones what he spends on transportation taxes and fees.
He also pointed out that MoDOT expenses include the $25 million that is spent for winter maintenance, such as treating roads and paying for fuel, equipment and labor. When averaged for the state’s 4.2 million drivers, that’s $6 each.
He wants people to spend some time on the new website, which he said was intentionally released after the election and before the state Legislature convenes in a few weeks in Jefferson City.
“We want to answer questions people have and make information transparent and available to anyone who is interested,” McKenna said.