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Government, business leaders focus on Missouri transportation issues at Cape summit

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Area businesspeople along with federal and state government officials gathered Wednesday in Cape Girardeau to hear about issues facing transportation and to give their ideas about how to address those issues at the first day of the Southeast Missouri Regional Transportation Summit.

The summit, held at Ray's Plaza Conference Center, runs through today and is an inaugural effort hosted by the Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce.

John Mehner, chamber president, welcomed those in attendance Wednesday and announced that the summit had two purposes.

"The first purpose is to inform you today on what is going on in the world of transportation," he said. "The second will be to receive your input during Thursday's session on how to best tackle Missouri's transportation problems."

Wednesday's speakers focused on the challenges facing maintaining and improving the state's aging transportation infrastructure, among them a lack of funding for needed projects.

Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson said that the banning of earmarks -- a legislative provision that directs approved funds to be spent on specific projects -- in Congress has hampered her efforts to bring more funding to the Missouri Department of Transportation.

"There is no issue more important than a good transportation-infrastructure system," she said. "Progress was made when MoDOT turned highway 60 into four lanes, and they came through again when highway 67 was also four-laned. But, with the elimination of earmarks, it's the administration that is parceling out highway money and not Congress. I can't get funding for MoDOT the way I've been able to in past years."

However, Emerson said that she will continue to fight for funding no matter who holds the purse strings.

"I hope the summit will produce ideas that will create an environment where our economy can prosper," she said. "Job creation and the rebuilding of our infrastructure through a strong MoDOT will lay the foundation for our economy to grow."

MoDOT director Kevin Keith also spoke Wednesday and echoed Emerson's concerns about funding.

"Transportation can help the economy," he said, "but the problem is how we get the funding for it."

Keith said the funding that MoDOT receives from the legislature has become tightened due to economic realities, and the fuel tax that Missourians pay at the pump that provides for MoDOT funding hasn't changed since 1992.

"The fuel tax has become less productive in recent years," he said. "And with the rise in the cost of gasoline, more fuel-efficient cars and even electric ones, the consequence is that less fuel-tax money is coming in to fund transportation projects. It's a problem that's not going away anytime soon."

Keith noted that MoDOT has little recourse but to keep existing roads and bridges in as good as condition as possible, but they'll only get worse in time. He hoped that new answers to the problems could come from the summit.

"We need a consensus on what to move forward with when it comes to meeting funding challenges," he said.

Bill McKenna, spokesman for the not-for-profit Missouri Transportation Alliance and co-chair of the Blue Ribbon Citizens Commission on Missouri's Transportation Needs, said that $700 million is the amount needed for MoDOT to keep things the way the are now, but with the fuel-tax revenue going down a little more every year, Missourians will have to take care of the problem themselves.

"An increase in the fuel tax of perhaps 24 cents per gallon would help MoDOT greatly," he said, "but with the cost of gas the way it is, that's probably not going to fly. We need to look to other solutions, such as a sales tax that will go directly for transportation funding or perhaps an increase in the state's licensing fees. Toll booths are another option."

Like the previous two speakers at the summit, McKenna expressed a desire that answers to existing problems could be hatched at the summit.

"The solutions won't be easy," he said, "but with the people we have in this room, I'm positive that something new can come about."

The summit continues at 8:45 a.m. today at Ray's Plaza Conference Center.



Pertinent address:

3257 William St., Cape Girardeau, MO

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"An increase in the fuel tax of perhaps 24 cents per gallon would help MoDOT greatly," - er, I hope he meant an increase TO 24 cents per gallon.

According to this source - http://www.api.org/Oil-and-Natural-Gas-O... - Missouri ranks 46th lowest out of 51 states and entities (District of Columbia included)for gasoline tax, and 47th lowest out of 51 for diesel tax.

Essentially, the federal gas tax is 18.4 cents per gallon (cpg) across the board, with the Missouri state portion at 17.3 cpg against a state average of 31.1 cpg.

The federal tax for diesel is 24.4 cpg, with the Missouri state portion at 17.3 cpg against a state average of 29.5 cpg.

A Missouri state fuel tax increase to 24 cpg would still be below the average for state taxes assessed.

If one thinks the roads and bridges are fine - then we're getting one heck of a bargain out of MoDOT, IMO. Otherwise, well, suggest we're getting what we pay for.

-- Posted by fxpwt on Wed, Sep 26, 2012, at 7:35 PM

ummm...no. I will not support a fuel tax increase of 24 cents per gallon. I pay personal property taxes to keep my gasoline taxes low. My objective is to keep my recurring costs as low as possible. One time costs such as increased registration fees for licenses would be more palatable, but an increase in sales tax would hit the auto sales industry. The downfall is that MO DOT will continue to favor urban road projects when it comes to directing funding. When I drive to St. Louis, it is obvious to me that road projects are underway without the justified need. Rural areas such as Cape and Sikeston need to figure out a way to show MODOT that funding rural projects needs to fit into their priorities. Finally, MODOT needs to find a way to be more efficient with the money they have. We are all in cost-cutting mode. Building ornamental overpasses across St. Louis interstates is not necessary with today's economy.

-- Posted by Beaker on Wed, Sep 26, 2012, at 8:27 PM

Beaker, when you see those "ornamental" overpasses it means the municipality chose to use their own money to enhance the project and provide a unique entrance to the community. Modot designs are bare bones unless someone else puts money into the project. We have pioneered practical design concepts that are being modeled by other DOT's nationwide. St. Louis and KC will always have a lot of work because that's where the people and traffic are, but anybody that doesn't think Cape and Sikeston are getting their fare share of work hasn't been paying attention lately.

-- Posted by hondaprimacy on Fri, Sep 28, 2012, at 8:29 AM

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