Roads and taxes are certainly less exciting than basketball’s March Madness and an upcoming start to the Kansas City Royals baseball season. Please just fix the pavement, but don’t raise my taxes. That’s certainly my feeling as the latest in a long line of stories in The Kansas City Star about Missouri’s road woes. I’d rather think about baseball, hope the pitching staff holds up, wonder if Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer will hit. Was Lorenzo Cain for real last October? Will we be in first place at the Fourth of July?
Ah, but infrastructure realities intrude. Is there any word more boring, unless you’re in the construction business, than infrastructure?
However, unless a state road funding shortfall is fixed, the state’s road construction funding for transportation will drop to $325 million. It takes $485 million for annual maintenance of roads and bridges.
Unless more money is found, 8,000 miles of primary roads will get funded. Another 26,000 miles will get limited maintenance, which means more potholes and crumbly shoulders while driving off the beaten path.
And here we are in Platte County with super-important primary roads, such as interstate highways, and secondary roads that carry lots of traffic. Think NW 64th Street for the latter, also known as 45 Highway.
Not to mention a very large number of two-lane state back roads which are critical if you drive them every day to go earn your pay or if they carry your kids to school. Plus we’re a fast-growing county transitioning from rural to urban, so the roads we have now are going to get more car and truck traffic with each passing construction season.
One bill before the Missouri General Assembly would raise the state’s gas tax by 2 cents a year for three years. Part of the shortfall would be made up with that increase, although many long-term highway needs would still go unmet. Yet this road funding patch stands little chance of passage, some say.
The majority mood in the state legislature is against any tax increase.
I wish I could declare a total loyalty to one approach or another. I’m stuck in the middle, thrilled that gas prices have come down and loath to anything that increases their inevitable rise. But I’m also a commuter road warrior.
What I wouldn’t give for the Interstate 29 to Interstate 35 bottleneck in the Downtown loop to be eased, but that would cost massive amounts of money the state doesn’t have and probably won’t have in my lifetime.
First things first, now I have to worry that the roads now in place will stay smooth. The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) is caught between crunching forces. The average wage earner hasn’t caught up buying power due to economic recession and corporate profit taking. An economy perking up with the big numbers and some jobs hasn’t provided a meaningful wage bump for most folks.
That’s why last August the state’s voters by a large margin said no to a three-quarter cent sales tax for roads. It was a valid statement about economic realities.
But if roads get bad and bumpy, MoDOT takes the blame, not politicians or voters.
Growth is not an innocent bystander, either. We’ve built a national and local economy where growth equals prosperity. But infrastructure needs maintenance or it doesn’t work right whether it’s a highway or a sewer system.
By the Fourth of July we may have a better idea if the Royals are for real in the baseball world again this year. About highways, we don’t seem likely to have any answers.
We’ll start to worry a lot more about the latter though when what’s been a pretty good highway system just doesn’t seem up to standard, is more crowded and driving around the metro for fun or a living is a lot less pleasurable.
Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area with his family, may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.