Members of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission got a closer look at the condition of Northwest Missouri’s roads and bridges this week, during a regular meeting held in Maryville, Missouri.
Commissioners, though, might be able to promise better days ahead for those driving the highways of Northwest Missouri, or any part of the state that faces critical maintenance needs.
Missouri will receive an $82.2 million federal grant to replace the Interstate 70 bridge at Rocheport, just west of Columbia. The significance of this funding, announced earlier this summer, extends beyond those who drive this busy stretch of I-70 in the state’s midsection.
Though short of the $172.5 million that state transportation officials were seeking, the federal grant will trigger $301 million in state bonding authorized by the Missouri General Assembly during the 2019 session. That money will be used to repair or replace more than 200 bridges across the state, including many in Northwest Missouri. The bonds will be repaid out of state general revenue over a seven-year period.
After voters rejected a proposed gas tax last fall, Gov. Mike Parson pushed for a bonding package to address some of the worst bridges in Missouri. In a compromise with the legislature, that funding was tied to the federal grant for the bridge at Rocheport.
“We’re thrilled that we now have the funds to complete this critical project and trigger our bold transportation plan,” the governor said in a statement after the federal grant was announced.
The state’s citizens and motorists have waited patiently for a significant fix, as road conditions continue to deteriorate since the last time the Missouri gas tax was increased more than 20 years ago. In that span, increased fuel efficiency in vehicles limited the impact of paying for highway repairs and upgrades with gasoline tax revenue, because people are able to fuel up less often while putting more wear and tear on roads.
So Missourians should welcome this additional funding for bridge repairs. It represents a significant improvement that amounts to more than a Band-Aid.
Yet the reality remains that Missouri has more than 900 bridges in poor condition and a state highway department that’s responsible for a sprawling highway system, including the sixth-largest number of bridges in the country.
Lawmakers should recognize that highway funding needs will only grow in future years and businesses and citizens will continue to push for this critical issue to be addressed. The bridge funding should be viewed as a window to craft a more long-term highway funding plan in future legislative sessions.