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Potholes popping up all over

Missouri Department of Transportation workers Lester Shears (left) and Mike Schneider fill potholes on southbound Interstate 55 in 2014.

Photo by J.B. Forbes, jforbes@post-dispatch.com

A new independent study of America’s infrastructure finds Missouri has the eighth-worst roads in America. To anyone who has followed the state’s bumpy infrastructure debate in recent years — or who has just driven through the obstacle course — this should come as no surprise.

The report contains no surprises, but it provides a timely reminder that this debate is far from over. Last year’s effort to create a revenue source for a major infrastructure overhaul via a fuel-tax hike failed not because it was a bad or even unpopular idea but because its execution was thoroughly bungled. Proponents should try again next year — and get it right this time.

The disgraceful condition of Missouri’s roads, highways and bridges is no secret. The American Society of Civil Engineers has given the state an infrastructure grade of C-minus. That sounds generous next to the findings of a task force of elected officials and others last year that concluded the situation is so dire it’s endangering public safety and affecting the state’s economy.

The issue is urgent enough that Republican Gov. Mike Parson — no one’s idea of a tax-and-spend liberal — threw his support behind a ballot measure that would have increased the state’s fuel tax to fund an overhaul. Proposition D sought to hike Missouri’s gas tax, stuck at 17 cents a gallon for the past 20 years, by 10 cents over four years, helping fund some $800 million annually in badly needed improvements. Making drivers pay for fixing the transportation system struck the right philosophical balance.

Yet Missouri voters rejected it — possibly because of ballot language so convoluted that it gave the impression it was funding not roads and bridges but the state police, which wasn’t the case. Parson was forced to settle for a bond-funded $350 million bridge-renovation program, which is nowhere near enough.

Unsurprisingly, the new national report by QuoteWizard, an insurance industry platform, found more of the same for Missouri. The report, based on Federal Highway Administration data, found 23% of Missouri’s roads are in poor condition and 14% of its bridges are structurally deficient. These deficiencies cost Missouri drivers some $700 apiece annually, the report said.

It’s confirmation of the state’s continuing failure to fulfill a basic function of government — in part because legislators were too cowardly just to pass a law, and in part because the voters then declined to do the job their elected officials wouldn’t.

As we have said before, the legislative option is now water under the sagging, rusting, pothole-covered bridge. The voters have spoken, so the only acceptable option is to seek a reconsideration from them in the form of another Prop D-type referendum next year. Parson should lead the effort, and make sure this time it doesn’t veer into the ditch.