Two distinctly different panels with identical goals, will solicit citizen feedback in the week ahead on Missouri’s highway funding woes while in the region.
The first group, the Policy Development Caucus, will hold a public town hall session at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Nodaway County Administration Center, 403 North Market, Maryville.
The panel was formed by Missouri House Speaker Todd Richardson, a Republican, who requested the development and fine tuning of policy goals for the party caucus.
The group has spent the past few months analyzing the state’s transportation funding needs and possible funding solutions, with a future report due at the conclusion of its work. No House members from any of Northwest Missouri’s districts sit on the panel.
The caucus will be asking residents for opinions on potential funding solutions for highways and will be traveling to related sessions across Missouri.
And on Wednesday, a recently formed 21st Century Missouri Transportation System Task Force will hold a public meeting from 1 to 3 p.m. at Union Station in Kansas City. Again, none of the members — which includes legislators and business interests — hail from the region.
The task force was created to evaluate the condition of the state’s transportation system and funding levels ahead of listing recommendations for lawmakers to consider.
Both of the gatherings will occur in the aftermath of a report from a nonprofit group’s findings on transportation issues. The group, known as TRIP, found that Missouri’s rural roads and bridges have high deficiency rates, and that the system needs to be modernized in order to better support economic growth and connectivity.
The study found that 21 percent of the state’s roads are in poor condition, with 14 percent of Missouri bridges structurally deficient. The research also found that the state ranked 12th in 2015 with 449 rural non-interstate traffic deaths.
Three Northwest Missouri lawmakers, all Republicans, weighed in on the continuing highway debate.
Sen. Rob Schaaf of St. Joseph said his most recent proposals for highways were never aired at hearings. One would favor returning responsibility of maintenance of lettered routes back to counties.
“Every idea has insurmountable problems right now,” Schaaf said.
Taxpayers, he added, are already feeling their own dollars stretched too thin in order to throw support behind any tax programs for Missouri transportation improvements.
“They probably wouldn’t vote for a gas tax,” Schaaf said. “I don’t see any comprehensive plan soon.”
He said such panels have traditionally been created to serve political purposes and don’t actually produce results. He said lack of representation for the region on the groups has no bearing.
J. Eggleston, a House member from Maysville, said it will be up to the panels to foster answers that don’t promote wasteful state government spending.
His constituents are concerned that the Missouri Department of Transportation may become too focused on a plan that would create a six-lane Interstate 70 across the state.
“Our farmers and our rural folks need good roads as well,” said Eggleston, who would endorse placing a gas tax increase question before voters — as long as it’s not forced by legislative action. Missouri’s fuel tax is currently about 17 cents per gallon.
“Ultimately, it should be up to a vote of the people,” he added of a potential increase.
Fellow Republican House member Rusty Black of Chillicothe agrees with Eggleston that voters need to be asked for their preference on funding and that rural interests will be represented at the meetings, despite lack of a regional presence.
“It’s disappointing,” Black said of Northwest Missouri’s absence at the table for highway discussions. “(But) I don’t think we’re going to be forgotten at all.”