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Transportation task force recommends changes in public policy, funding methods

Transportation task force recommends changes in public policy, funding methods

January 14th, 2018 by Bob Watson in Local News
Julie Smith/News Tribune Kevin Wagner photographs the underside of the westbound U.S. 50/63 bridge over the Osage River as he and Tony Welschmeyer, both members of MoDOT's Bridge Inspection crew, perform a regularly scheduled inspection of the bridge. The westbound bridge was built in 1952 and underwent rehabilitation in 2002. After a visual inspection and photographs, they'll create a report and be able to compare the results with the previous inspection. The crew inspected the eastbound lane Tuesday.

Missourians "are not satisfied with the state of our transportation system now," state Rep. Kevin Corlew told a Jan. 2 news conference at the Capitol, as he released the 67-page 21st Century Missouri Transportation System Task Force report.

Its most reported recommendation has been a proposal to increase Missouri's per-gallon gasoline tax by a dime and the similar diesel fuel tax by 12 cents a gallon, but it contains more than a dozen proposals for action or future study to improve how Missourians get around — and how to pay for those improvements.

Lawmakers last year created the 23-member task force to study the conditions of Missouri's transportation system, including highways, bridges and multimodal areas — railroads, rivers and ports, air service and airports, public transportation, biking opportunities and pedestrian paths.

The task force was charged with recommending changes to public policy, including funding methods.

"We've had tremendous members from the task force, from the private sector, (who) brought some great experiences to the table," Corlew said as he released the report, "some tremendous knowledge of various areas that are important and pertinent to our transportation system."

The report makes clear it reflects the general consensus of its members and "not every recommendation is supported by every member."

Still, the report notes, "An effort was made to include only recommendations that had the general support of the Task Force members, based on the Task Force discussion in the meetings."

Among the report's findings is Missouri is poised with strategic policy-making and proper investment "to have a world-class transportation and to be a leader in travel, logistics and freight distribution. Missouri has a large system of road, highways, and bridges, including major interstate highway corridors that provide easy access for freight transportation."

The report followed a series of 10 public meetings around the state from June through December 2017.

The task force report noted each of those public meetings attracted 80-175 people, and all the meetings "enabled Missouri residents, elected officials, and civic and business leaders to discuss their transportation-related needs and concerns."

Corlew, R-Kansas City, chaired the task force.

The report states: "Business leaders testified (that) leveraging Missouri's geographic location, natural resources, and existing highway and intermodal systems through strategic policymaking and greater investment would substantially benefit the economy, improve the quality of life for Missourians, and spur job growth."

The task force found Missouri's current transportation system — the highways and bridges — cost $55 billion in user fees over the years, and would cost more than $125 billion to replace.

The report repeats the key Missouri Department of Transportation facts that Missouri's state-owned highway system, at 33,884 miles, is the nation's seventh-largest state system, and its 10,394 bridges is the sixth largest.

It's a busy system, carrying Missourians and visitors to the state more than 50 billion miles per year.

State Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, served on the Highways and Transportation Commission a decade ago before running for the Senate in 2010.

He said last week the state needs to improve MoDOT's funding because "things have only gotten worse" in the decade since he left the commission.

Kehoe expects lawmakers to take a serious look at the various task force recommendations.

The report's main proposals include:

Raising Missouri's current 17.4 cents-per-gallon motor fuels tax by 10 cents per gallon of gasoline and 12 cents per-gallon of diesel fuel.

"This additional investment by highway users would raise approximately $430 million annually to improve our roads and bridges," the report explains. "This would generate a total of approximately $4.3 billion over 10 years."

That would cover about half of the state's total needs.

Under the state's existing distribution formula, city and county governments also would get increased revenues for their local road needs if the fuels taxes were increased.

Bills have been introduced this year in the House and Senate to send an increase in the gasoline and diesel fuels taxes to a statewide vote. Because of the size of the proposed increase, Missouri's Constitution requires voters to approve it.

The federal government imposes a separate tax on each gallon of fuel purchased, which would not be affected by the state proposals.

Creating a dedicated revenue stream for multimodal (non-highway) transportation needs (air, rail, river, bus, etc.) of $50 million-$70 million annually, instead of the current annual budget debate involving competing interests for state general revenue funding.

Currently, the state supports those other transportation modes on a fluctuating basis from one year to the next.

The report suggests one way of getting dedicated revenue would be by revising the "Timely Filing Discount" businesses receive for paying the sales and withholding taxes they owe the state anyway.

"This (2 percent) vendor discount is uncapped and is the second-most generous in the country," the report notes, costing Missourians around $115 million in 2016.

State Rep. Trent Curtis, R-Springfield, sponsors a bill to make that change.

Studying options for replacing fuel taxes with other revenue sources to support a 21st century state transportation system, including creating a "next-generation task force" (or another method) "to consider the many different funding options that exist (now) or that are emerging with regularity."

Rep. Jeffrey Messenger, R-Republic, has proposed a constitutional amendment that, if voters approve, would authorize the Highways and Transportation Commission to build toll roads and impose and collect tolls on interstates and four-lane roadways.

Those tolls would be used only for the highways where they were collected, but supporters have argued, the tolls would replace money the state now is spending on those roads and allow that money to be used in other parts of the state.

Sen. Bill Eigel, R-St. Charles, is sponsoring a bill that would allow the commission to issue bonds to finance transportation infrastructure.

Doubling the current registration fees for electric (now $75) and hybrid (now $37.50) vehicles that "otherwise would pay no fuel tax and consequently would not pay their fair share of road upkeep," the report explains.

Increasing non-fuel user fees (like licensing and registration) by at least 10 percent.

"In Missouri, most of these transportation fees have not been increased since 1984, while some were last increased in 1969," the report states.

Indexing all user fees so they respond to inflation and other changes.

"Indexing of user fees can be done based on factors such as the consumer price index, fuel efficiency, population and other applicable growth factors," the report explained. "Indexing would increase or decrease the revenue raised to reflect the current state of the economy and to preserve the purchasing power of the money raised."

The report noted Missouri's fuel taxes are not indexed, and as a result, the buying power the 17-cents per-gallon tax had in 1996, when it was imposed, "has eroded to an effective rate of 8-cents due to the impact of inflation on purchases of services and materials."

Revising registration fees so they're based on miles-per-gallon usage rather than horsepower.

"When developed in 1910, taxable horsepower and engine horsepower were roughly equivalent and correlated with fuel consumption," the task force report explained. "However, evolving engine design (including the shift away from internal combustion engines to electric motors) means that the values for taxable horsepower and actual engine horsepower have diverged dramatically."

Designating a portion of any sales taxes collected on internet sales to be used for transportation purposes.

"There is a growing recognition that as more retail purchases are made online, the more that the state's transportation system is burdened with delivery and distribution needs," the report said.

"The Task Force encourages the Legislature to continue to monitor and implement better means for collecting the already-existing (but not sufficiently collected) tax and then designate a percentage of additional revenue for transportation."

Creating "express managed lanes" in metropolitan areas — such as lanes used only by high-occupancy vehicles — which could require a toll for their use.

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Considering the ability to impose tolls on major bridges, to generate funds for their reconstruction and safety needs.

"With major bridge replacement costs often exceeding several hundred million to over a billion dollars in construction costs," the task force reported, "states (including Missouri) are struggling to pay for these needed projects with traditional taxing and fee sources.

"Toll financing has become an option to pay for these significant bridge replacement projects, especially major river crossings. Major bridge tolling would impose a dedicated, user-toll charge on vehicles crossing a new or reconstructed major bridge within the state."

The task force said its suggestion would affect the state's 212 major bridges, out of the overall 10,405 structures.

Considering mileage-based road-user charges.

The report explains: "Mileage-based road-user fees are direct charges levied for the use of roads in lieu of, or in addition to, fuel taxes. They can include road tolls, fees based on miles traveled, congestion charges, or fees designed to discourage use of certain classes of vehicles or fuel sources."

The task force said many states are "exploring various road-user options in response to consumers' buying less gasoline due to electric, hybrid or more efficient combustion vehicles."

Corlew said Missourians believe the state Transportation Department "has done a good job of doing what they can in terms of maintaining and working with our transportation system."

He hopes lawmakers will support placing the proposed fuels tax increase on the statewide ballot, as a first-step to getting some improvements.

Corlew told the News Tribune last week the costs of the task force's work haven't been calculated, yet.

"I know some members' travel reimbursements are still being processed," he explained. "I would expect the totals would be available later this month."