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Crumbling roads and bridges spur local support for a gas tax hike

Joseph Leahy / St. Louis Public Radio
MoDOT contractor Bob Hofer photographs the underside of I-270 at New Florissant Rd where metal nets have been fastened to catch crumbling concrete.

Some local mayors and transportation officials are supporting a legislative proposal to add two cents to the state’s gas tax that they say is critical to maintaining area roads and bridges.

To illustrate the problem, officials from the St. Louis County Municipal League, the East-West Gateway Coordinating Council and MoDOT gathered Friday near an overpass at Interstate 270 and New Florissant Rd.

The proposed tax hike is a matter of public safety, said Florissant Mayor Thomas Schneider.

Credit Joseph Leahy / St. Louis Public Radio
Florissant Mayor Thomas Schneider speaks in favor of raising the state fuel tax to pay for much-need road and bridge repairs.

“This overpass needs to be replaced,” he said. “[MoDOT] can’t afford to replace it so they’ve got nets underneath it to keep the concrete from crumbling down and falling on the cars beneath it. Instead of replacing that bridge, all they’re going to do is put a new surface on it. It’s kind of like a Band Aid.”

MoDOT’s budget has declined sharply since 2009 from $1.9 billion to $700 million in 2014. By 2017, the department projects having $325 million, which is about $160 million shy of what is needed to maintain the entire system in its current condition.

In anticipation of the shortfall, MoDOT has approved a plan to fully maintain only a quarter of its nearly 34,000 miles of roads and 10,400 bridges. The state’s so-called “supplementary” roads and bridges will get limited maintenance, said District Engineer Greg Horn.

“Roads like Lindbergh, Manchester, Olive, Highway K, Gravois – we will not be doing any construction projects on them. We won’t abandon them; we’ll patch potholes, plow snow and mow the grass, but that’s about it.”

The local officials are calling on lawmakers to pass Senate Bill 540, sponsored by Doug Libla (R-Poplar Bluff). It would increase the state's fuel tax to 19 cents per gallon next year from its current 17 cents. The increase is projected to bring in an additional $55 million of revenue next year.

Missouri’s gas tax hasn't been raised in nearly 20 years.