When Blake Hurst speaks about the importance of transportation to rural Missouri, he comes at his subject with a lifetime investment in the issues involved. What he has to say now matters.
Hurst, a third-generation farmer from Atchison County, Missouri, is the president of Missouri Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farm organization. He long ago earned his reputation as a defender of agriculture and, by extension, rural America.
This is why he recently testified before the Missouri Transportation Task Force about the need for an increase in funding for highways and bridges. He championed a traditional method, the user-paid fuels tax, as the best way to fund improvements.
“I was able to talk about the deterioration of rural Missouri roads,” he explained later, “and how bad roads are making it more difficult to move farm products to market and safely transport rural kids to school.”
This is valuable testimony, but what is more striking is what Hurst observed at the task force hearing.
He told of a representative for Uber, the ride-sharing firm, waxing poetically about a future for transit that might best be described as “a series of autonomous (driverless) cars picking up riders and efficiently moving them hither and yon.” If so, expect broad expanses of the state to be left out of the discussion – and without a transit vision for the future.
He spoke of a task force member who suggested the solution to state road funding woes is simply to return responsibility for lettered routes to counties – as if money magically will appear to make this anything but a disaster for farmers and rural communities.
He related how another member of the task force from St. Louis figured that funding should follow population, so that the metropolitan areas would get a bigger share of transportation dollars than they already do. Hurst responded by noting rural Missourians on average annually drive 50 percent more miles than urban residents and typically drive larger vehicles, so the miles per gallon in rural areas tends to be lower.
“In other words, per capita spending on fuel taxes is greater in rural areas,” he said.
Hurst’s core message was that the current funding allocation between rural and urban areas works well by taking into account both population and miles driven.
“It would be a mistake and a distraction,” he warns, “to renew regional sniping while our roads and bridges are in crisis.”
Lots of people will speak before the state task force, but few if any will bring a more thoughtful perspective, or one more important in behalf of rural Missouri.