JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- State transportation commissioners plan to decide in January whether to change a road funding formula that has resulted in a contentious split among the interests of big cities and rural areas.
Since 1998, half of the state's road funds have been directed to the St. Louis and Kansas City areas and the other half has been divided among the rest of the state.
While presenting an annual accountability report Wednesday to Missouri lawmakers, state Highways and Transportation Commission Chairman Ollie Gates said his colleagues would vote Jan. 10 on new road funding criteria.
Any change would be effective July 1, 2006, because road projects already are programmed under the existing distribution formula until then.
The current so-called urban-rural split was adopted when commissioners decided six years into a 15-year spending blueprint that the plan was about $1 billion short annually. The old 15-year plan, adopted along with a 6-cent gas tax increase in 1992, had more projects in rural areas.
Because that plan was abandoned but the tax remains, some rural lawmakers have questioned the credibility of the transportation commission. Yet urban lawmakers also have expressed concern about getting anything less that what they currently are guaranteed.
In all likelihood, a new road funding formula would not divide money according to urban or rural areas. Rather, commissioners are trying to direct money to the highest priority projects.
"We are definitely trying to have something that is more objective and more predictable than rural-urban," said Henry Hungerbeeler, director of the Missouri Department of Transportation. "We're trying to decide what the meaning of the word 'needs' is. There are different 'needs."'
The condition of road pavement will be included in the "needs" criteria. More difficult to decide is what judgmental weight to assign to such factors as traffic congestion, Hungerbeeler said.
Adding incentives to change the road formula is the fact that the Springfield area currently is included in the rural category. But because of growth reflected in the 2000 census, Springfield now qualifies as a Transportation Management Area.
That is the same designation shared by the St. Louis and Kansas City areas, which make their own decisions on how to spend their share of state road funds.
Even if the transportation commission kept the current urban-rural funding split, it would have to decide how to categorize funding for the Springfield area -- meaning the funding percentage for some other area likely would change, Hungerbeeler said.
Transportation commissioners have been considering a new funding formula for several months. The January decision date is a practical one that would allow staff eno ugh to time to develop a fiscal year 2004-2008 road project plan with the new criteria in place for fiscal years 2007 and 2008.