Jefferson City – The Missouri Department of Transportation says it can only afford to completely maintain 8,000 miles of the state's 34,000 miles of roads due to a gradually shrinking budget and rising maintenance costs.
Both MoDOT officials and members of the Department of Transportation said fewer funds will contribute to crumbling roadways and bridges statewide.
“Ultimately, roads and bridges are going to continue to deteriorate with the revenue we have now,” MoDOT Director Dave Nichols said.
MoDOT's current budget will only allow it to maintain 8,000 miles of the state's 34,000 miles of roads. Its construction budget will be limited to $325 million.
The department's proposed plan has labeled the 8,000 miles as primary roadways, while the remaining 26,000 miles are considered supplementary roadways.
The primary roadways make up 73 percent of statewide vehicle traffic and include Interstate 70, Lindbergh Boulevard and Olive Street in St. Louis, Bruce Watkins Drive and Blue Parkway in Kansas City and Missouri Boulevard in Jefferson City, among others.
“Primary roads are all we can commit to with $325 million,” Nichols said.
“We're attempting to spread, I call it the pain, but we will spread the fiscal responsibility throughout the state as equitably as we can,” Missouri Transportation Committee Chairman Steven Miller said.
Bridges across the state will take a hit because of the plan as well.
In 2014, 483 bridges were classified as being in poor or serious condition by the department. In 2024, that number is projected to increase by nearly 1,000 bridges.
BACK TO GRAVEL
Rural communities will also face downgraded services under the proposed plan.
“Those rural roads, they will begin to go back to what they originally were, over time, back to a gravel road,” Miller said.
House Transportation Committee Chairman Glen Kolkmeyer (R-Odessa” called the plan, “devastating.”
“One of the things that bothers me is there are a lot of well-traveled routes that are not on the primary plan, it's devastating,” Kolkmeyer said.
NO TAX, NO ROADS
The majority of MoDOT's financial woes can be traced to voters’ rejection of Amendment 7 – the state transportation sales tax – back in August. The amendment would have raised sales taxes that the department could have used to fund road and bridge maintenance.
More fuel-efficient vehicles have undercut gasoline tax revenues, which have traditionally funded road and bridge maintenance, but maintenance and construction costs have risen.
MoDOT cannot rely on national funds to pay for construction projects because soon it will not have enough money to provide the state match needed to qualify.
Instead, the federal funds will be distributed to other states, which have the money to provide the match.
The Missouri legislature could raise the state's gas tax by two percent without voter approval, but MoDOT says that will only solve part of the problem.
(Jill Ornitz is a State Capitol reporter for Missouri Digital News Service. This story was edited for the Labor Tribune.)