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MoDOT Kicks Off Public Meetings On Transportation Tax List

/ Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio

The Missouri Department of Transportation kicked off a series of public meetings Monday on possible roadway, bridge and mass transit projects funded with a proposed transportation sales tax. 

MoDOT is holding a series of open houses across the state for the public to weigh in on potential projects funded with a .75 percent sales tax increase. Voters are to decide on the issue in the August 5 election. MoDOT held it's first open houses on  Monday in Clayton and Arnold, and it has three more scheduled in the St. Louis region throughout the week. 

Greg Horn, MoDOT’s district engineer for the St. Louis region, said he’s received a “mixed” reaction from people who’ve attended the meetings. Some, he says, have been enthused by the project list. But others are concerned about using a sales tax increase to pay for projects.

He also said the list released last week may change before the process is finalized in early July.

“This is the first day. This is exactly why we want people to come out here and talk to us,” Horn said. “We want them to give us their comments. We want to look at what people are saying about whether these are the right projects or the wrong projects. We worked very closely with the cities and counties to come up with this list to begin with. But we want the public to give us their thoughts and their ideas with this.”

If the tax passes on August 5, four St. Louis area counties and the city of St. Louis are expected to receive around $1.49 billion over a 10-year period. MoDOT’s draft list for the region released late last week is relatively similar to what the five jurisdictions submitted to East-West Gateway earlier this month.

While the city of St. Louis’ list is a mixture of roadway, transit and pedestrian projects, the other four counties primarily feature road and highway projects. That was disappointing to St. Louis resident William Matus, who felt the initial list lacked balance.

“I feel that there’s way too much emphasis on highways and roadways,” Matus said. “I know they have a lot of things listed here for pedestrians and non-motorized forms of transportation. But I feel like those are going to kind of fall to the wayside and will not take the priority that they need over expanding lanes on highways and expanding our roadways.”

Creve Coeur resident Ken Bush took the opposite tack. He said he would like MoDOT to focus more on roadway work, including making it easier to get to Ladue while traveling eastbound on I-64.

“MoDOT, here in their audacious plan, should not be including things like rapid transit and trails,” Bush said. “I can understand why they’re doing it. That’s sort of the topic de jour today. And I think they do that, I’m guessing, so they can get more funds from Washington.”

“I think they’re trying to put too much in one mix to please too many people, specifically to get that federal funding,” he added. “I think they’d be better just to concentrate on what they normally would do — and that’s to plan the roads.”

Some opponents of the transportation tax handed out fliers outside the Mid-County Branch of the St. Louis County Library in Clayton.

Les Sterman, the former executive director of East-West Gateway and a member of a group opposed to the tax, said the proposal amounted to “a pretty significant overreach in a time when government in general is hard-pressed to fund the central services.” 

"Basically we’re looking to pay for projects here that many of them are pretty discretionary, frankly. And of course, the source of the revenue, the sales tax, is one that most of know really hits families the hardest and is regressive,” Sterman said. “There are a lot of things to me that suggest this tax increase is excessive and unfair.” 

MoDOT had initially planned a seven-day public comment period that stretched from June 13 to June 20. But it announced last week it had extended the comment period to July 3. The state’s transportation commission will sign off on a final list on July 9.

Here's the public meeting schedule for the rest of the week:

  • Tuesday: University of Missouri-St. Louis, Millennium Student Center, 1 University Blvd., St. Louis, 4 - 7 p.m. 
  •  Wednesday, June 18: St. Louis Public Library, 1301 Olive Street, St. Louis,  4 - 7 p.m.
  • Thursday, June 19: St. Charles Community College, 4601 Mid Rivers Mall Drive, Cottleville, MO, 4-7 p.m.

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