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Area Counties Ready Project Wish Lists; Nixon Opposes Tax Increase

Cracks are seen in the shoulder of I-70 near the exit to the Providence Road in Columbia, Mo. The budget for the Missouri Department of Transportation is expected to drop by nearly half in 2011. (Via Flickr/ KOMUnews, Manu Bhandari)
/Via Flickr/ KOMU news, Manu Bhandari
Cracks are seen in the shoulder of I-70 near the exit to the Providence Road in Columbia, Mo. The budget for the Missouri Department of Transportation is expected to drop by nearly half in 2011. (Via Flickr/ KOMUnews, Manu Bhandari)

The city of St. Louis and St. Louis County have plans for nearly $1.1 billion worth of transportation projects if a statewide sales tax increase passes this August. 

St. Louis and St. Louis County officials revealed their wish list of projects that would be funded with the .75 percent sales tax increase.  If the transportation tax passes in August, St. Louis, St. Charles, Jefferson and Franklin counties and  the city of St. Louis, are expected receive about $1.49 billion over a 10-year period from the state’s transportation commission.

The city and county lists reveal different priorities. The majority of the county’s list — which can be found here — focuses on refurbishing highways and roadways. The city's wish list emphasizes a number of mass transit, bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure improvements.

The county anticipates receiving roughly $840 million to go toward transportation projects. Some of the county's suggested improvements include:

  • About $237 million for a number of projects to fix up I-270, the primary roadway to get to north St. Louis County;
  • About $202 million for I-70-related projects, including $93 million to reconstruct the I-70/I-170 interchange;
  • Roughly $195.5 million for projects along I-170;
  • $153 million worth of improvements for Manchester Road;
  • $14 million to improve access for Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.

Patricia Washington, a spokeswoman for St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley, said the county’s list was created with a focus on fostering economic development — especially in north St. Louis County.
"If we want to encourage more efficient routing and transportation from the north corridor into central county and even beyond, then we know we have some things to do in north county,” Washington said. 

St. Louis' transportation wish: fewer cars, more of everything else.

In contrast to the county, the city is planning to allocate only one-quarter of the its $268 million request to road and bridge work. St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay emphasized that much of the city's requests aim to bolster mass transit, pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. That’s possible, Slay said, because the sales tax increase be used for things besides  improvements to roads and highways. 

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay
Credit Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said the city of St. Louis' transportation tax project list has a focus on non-roadway projects, including mass transit, bike and pedestrian infrastructure.

“It gives us the ability to do more things to help improve our neighborhoods, to help improve the quality of life in our neighborhoods,” Slay said during a press conference. “Anybody who comes to the city of St. Louis — whether they live here, work here, play here — it allows more people to get around without being wedded to an automobile.”

The city’s entire list can be found here. Some of the highlights include:

  • $35 million to help operate a streetcar line, a project that’s currently vying for federal funding.
  • $25 million to design and build a new I-64 interchange near 22nd Street.
  • Nearly $72 million for “Complete Streets” projects across the city. Those projects would bolster bike and pedestrian paths on major city streets.
  • $16.6 million to help pay for two bus rapid transit routes.
  • $12.6 million to re-pave portions of Grand Boulevard and Hampton Road.
  • $12 million for sidewalk, corner and crosswalk improvements.

The city of St. Louis and the four St. Louis-area counties are working with East-West Gateway to send a list of potential transportation projects to the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission. East-West Gateway's board will approve the list of projects to send to the commission on June 25. The commission will approve a list for the entire state the next day.
Because Gov. Jay Nixon called for a vote on the tax in August instead of November, the timeline to develop these lists was greatly accelerated. When asked if the sped-up timeline made it more difficult for the city to come up with project ideas, Slay said “We’re going to have a relatively short window to get the public input.”

“Ideally, we would have had a lot more [time] to do that,” Slay said.

Nixon opposes transportation tax

The rollout of potential projects Monday comes as Nixon announced his opposition to the transportation tax, showcasing a schism between some of the state’s key Democratic officials.    

Credit / File photo
Gov. Jay Nixon announced his opposition Monday to a transportation sales tax. Nixon had hinted at his disapproval of the measure -- including linking to negative editorials on his Twitter account.

Nixon had hinted at opposing the tax over the past couple of months, but had deferred from making an official comment until today. In a statement, Nixon said it was irresponsible to approve the tax increase when the legislature has “engaged in a relentless effort to erode Missouri’s tax base by carving out new loopholes and exemptions for wealthy individuals and businesses.” 

He also said the sales tax increase “would fall disproportionately on Missouri’s working families and seniors by increasing the cost of everyday necessities like diapers and over-the-counter medication, while giving the heaviest users of our roads a free pass.”

“I cannot in good conscience endorse a $6.1 billion tax hike on Missouri families and seniors when special interests and the wealthy are being showered with sweetheart deals,” Nixon said. “This tax hike is neither a fair nor fiscally responsible solution to our transportation infrastructure needs and it does not have my support.”

Nixon’s statement means he holds a different position on the issue than U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri.It also puts him on opposing sides with Slay, who said he would work to get regional businesses on board with a pro-tax campaign.

“We have historically had a very good transportation infrastructure. But it is deteriorating and it needs a lot of investment,” Slay said. “This isn’t going to fix all of that. But it will really help us improve dramatically the infrastructure to get goods where we need to get them, to support businesses that are here and to create jobs as well.”

The tax isn’t universally popular among either major political party. Dooley, for instance, said the tax is "not a priority" for his administration, adding that the shortened time frame provided less time for public input for projects.

While it received backing from lawmakers such as Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, and House Majority Leader John Diehl, R-Town and Country, it’s also encountered opposition from conservative lawmakers.

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.