Questions for the transportation task force ahead of first meeting

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – House Speaker Todd Richardson announced the creation of the 21st Century Missouri Transportation System Task Force Monday to analyze and examine ways to improve Missouri’s transportation infrastructure with a report due to the legislature by Jan. 1, 2018. The task force will be chaired by Kansas City Rep. Kevin Corlew, who said he expects the task force to begin its work next week.

A common refrain in the Capitol is the dire circumstances of Missouri’s roads and bridges. The state ranks seventh in the country in terms of the size of its transportation system but only 46th in terms of funding, which has caused the Missouri Department of Transportation to start making serious cuts, despite half a decades worth of downsizing and cost-cutting measures. MoDOT says there’s simply too much road for them to take care of with the funds they have, which brings us to the first important point to consider as this task force moves forward.

  • Funding woes: The major sticking point for transportation debate so far has been how to fund the necessary changes. Some have suggested increasing the fuel tax, which directly goes to MoDOT to fund roads and bridges, others have mused that toll roads are an option (though other bristle at that idea), and still more believe money can be found in general revenue to solve the problem. Regardless, it will cost a lot of money. The cost alone to rebuild and improve a 200-mile stretch of I-70 between Kansas City and St. Louis is in the ballpark of $3 million, according to the department. And that’s just for one, albeit large, project.
  • More traffic lanes may not ease congestion: In MoDOT’s old plans to update I-70, expanding roadway capacity was an important goal. A recent study published in the Transportation Research Record, an academic journal of the Transportation Research Board, has contributed to the growing amount of literature that indicates simply adding more lanes to roads may not make them any less crowded. The “induced travel effect” indicates that increased travel capacity leads to more vehicles on those roads. For Missouri, increased travel on one of the nation’s main thoroughfares for goods shipping may not necessarily be a bad thing, but more traffic also wears roads down much faster. This complication could be something for the task force to consider.
  • President Trump?: One of the only funding increases President Donald Trump has promised is a widespread infrastructure funding plan for the entire country with a price tag at roughly $1 trillion. It would be the single largest investment in infrastructure since President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s, during the Great Depression. However, the administration has thus far released few concrete details about what this plan will look like, which begs the question: Can Missouri rely on the federal government to get a piece of that enormous pie?