As representatives grapple with Missouri’s need for bridge funding, they are juggling concerns of infrastructure, debt, traffic and taxes.
The House Budget Committee heard testimony Wednesday on SCR 14, the Senate-approved solution for $301 million in bridge and infrastructure funding in Missouri.
The bill would allow the state to enter into a bond agreement for the sum that would be paid over 7 years depending on if it receives a separate federal grant, according to previous Missourian reporting.
The plan includes a $172 million grant application by Missouri to the federal government, and if Missouri does not receive an amount deemed “sufficient” to reconstruct the Rocheport bridge, the grant will not be accepted and the bonding will not be triggered.
Schatz called the bridge a “critical chokepoint” for the state because of the importance I-70 plays in interstate commerce.
Missouri is unlikely to receive all of the $172 million, Schatz said, so U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt will have to “go to bat for Missouri” to help get enough funding.
Rebuilding and rehabilitating Missouri bridges has been a priority for Gov. Mike Parson. In the wake of Missourians’ refusal of an increased fuel tax, the legislature has debated various methods for funding bridges.
Schatz and other members of the legislature said they believed an increase in the motor fuel tax will still be the best method for funding transportation in the future, but they have to consider bonding and paying bonds back via general revenue funds for now.
Rep. Greg Razer, D-Kansas City, expressed concern for the political implications of using general revenue instead of fuel tax money for roads and bridges.
“We have, throughout the course of our state’s history, kept that long-term funding and planning for the Department of Transportation, out of politics for the most part,” Razer said, adding that he did not want to set a precedent of allowing “members’ political weight” to decide which roads would be built.
He said some members might be tempted to pull funding from other areas, like higher education, to fund transportation.
Patrick McKenna, director of the Missouri Department of Transportation, said if Missouri doesn’t have enough money to replace the Rocheport bridge, they’ll have to rehabilitate it. Repairing the bridge would lead to long traffic delays.
Many representatives worried about increasing Missouri’s debt but agreed that the need for bridge funding was obvious.
Razer said the proposal couldn’t be paid for by MoDOT without bonding because “we’ve maxed out the MoDOT credit card.”
He said the state needs to find a way to pay for it in the long run without increasing debt.
As a result, Razer said he was conflicted about how to vote on SCR 14.
“I vote yes, and I’m voting to put us more into debt and opening up Pandora’s box of (general revenue). I vote no, and we have eight-hour backups on I-70.”
The bill brought favorable testimony from many organizations, including representatives from the Missouri Society of Professional Engineers, the Missouri Corn Growers Association, the Missouri Farm Bureau, the Missouri Limestone Producers Association and the Missouri Hospital Association.
MoDOT crews will begin emergency repairs on an expansion joint of the Rocheport Bridge on Saturday evening.
Construction will begin on the eastbound driving lane and will then will shift to the passing lane, according to a news release from MoDOT.
The bridge on I-70, which spans the Missouri River, will undergo 24-hour repairs by MoDOT crews until repairs are complete, according to the department.
Missourians that are traveling eastbound on I-70 should expect delays and traffic congestion “during peak traffic times, such as morning and evening rush hours,” according to a release.
A speed limit of 45 mph will be enforced during construction.