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Transportation task force to begin looking for ways to fix and pay for roads & bridges

Missouri Department of Transportation St. Charles County camera
A photo of the Boone Bridge taken from the St. Charles County side of the Missouri River.

Crumbling roads and old bridges have long been something lawmakers say they should work on.

Now, a task force created to study Missouri's transportation system will begin holding public meetings this week.

The task force's mission is to come up with ideas to repair the state's network of roads and bridges and figure out how to pay for it. It won't be easy, as the Republican majority in the legislature has balked at any solution that includes allowing toll roads or raising the state's 17.3 cents per gallon fuel tax, one of the lowest in the nation.

The task force is chaired by Rep. Kevin Corlew, R-Kansas City. He cautions against expecting any speedy solutions.

"I think that it's important that we go into this with open eyes and all options on the table, and be able to have the task force do its work and (to) let them do so," he said.

Corlew sponsored a bill during the regular session that would have allowed for turning Interstate 70 into a toll road across Missouri,. That proposal went nowhere. This time, he said, he won't push any specific item while chairing the task force.

"My role is not to come in on Day One and say, 'We're going to do this option and no other,'" he said. "The reason we have a task force is because we  haven't been able to find a consensus."

Senator Bill Eigel of Weldon Springs is also on the task force, and is one of several Republicans who strongly opposes raising the fuel tax or creating toll roads. He said during the latest Politically Speaking podcast that there's more than enough existing revenue for the state's transportation needs.

"We have a budget that's bigger than it’s ever been before, (nearly) $28 billion dollars," he said. "The idea that we should go back to the taxpayers – either for more tax revenue or for toll roads, which is basically a different form of a consumption tax – is in my mind ridiculous."

Eigel continued, "the people of Missouri have already made their investment and their sacrifice, and sent a record amount of money to Jefferson City. If we can take just three percent of what their sending to us out of our general revenue fund and dedicate it (to transportation), then we could make this happen and there will be no need for toll roads, no need for additional taxes, just better roads for Missouri."

In all, the task force is made up of 10 lawmakers, Gov. Eric Greitens, MoDOT Director Patrick McKenna, Highway Patrol Superintendent Sandra Karsten, Florissant Mayor Thomas Schneider, transportation commission member Michael Pace, and six members from the private sector. The first meeting is Wednesday, June 28, at the State Capitol. Other meetings are planned in St. Louis, Kansas City, Kirksville, Cape Girardeau, Columbia, and Springfield.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter: @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.