More than a pothole: Transportation conference brings stark warning

There was a stark, recurring theme during the 2014 Missouri Conference on Transportation – by 2017, there will not be enough funding to even continue maintaining our existing infrastructure.

“Missouri transportation has made great leaps and bounds in the last 12 years in moving transportation forward in our state,” said Joe Carmichael, chairman of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission. “But we see that progress coming to an end in the foreseeable future.”

Missouri Chamber President Dan Mehan speaks at a press conference during the 2014 Missouri Conference on Transportation.

Missouri Chamber President Dan Mehan speaks at a press conference during the 2014 Missouri Conference on Transportation.

Unless a solution is found soon, the Missouri Department of Transportation, which once invested more than a billion dollars into transportation infrastructure each year, will be forced to make ends meet on an annual budget of $325 million beginning in 2017.

“That’s not even enough money to do the preservation work,” said MODOT Director Dave Nichols. That amount won’t allow Missouri to “hold our own and keep our highway system in the condition it is today.”

Already, Missouri is seeing consequences from the coming funding decline. In fact, earlier this month the highways and transportation commission decided to stop adding new projects to the department’s five year building plan.

The state is also suspending its cost share program, which allowed MODOT to partner with cities and counties to fund projects that the state could not have funded on its own.

The transportation department is largely funded by fuel tax revenues. The last times those were increased were in 1992 and 1993 for the state and federal taxes, respectively. Recently, those tax revenues have begun to decline as people are driving few miles and purchasing more fuel efficient vehicles.

All of this is happening while the cost of building transportation projects continues to rise.

“Really, we’re able to do less with the dollars that we have to invest,” Nichols said. “That’s where the challenge is hitting us.”

One idea to help solve this funding crisis is to establish a new 1-cent sales tax to help fund transportation. The new tax would need to be passed by voters. The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry supports this proposal.

“If we invest in transportation, it means good things for economic development for the whole state,” said Dan Mehan, president of the Missouri Chamber.

As the state prepares for the possibility of bare bones transportation funding, MODOT leaders have been asking Missourians what they want and expect from their transportation system. Right now, those expectations are far from becoming a reality.

“Missourians are telling us when we speak with them that they want more,” said Carmichael. “But when we look at the balance sheet, look at the finances available and the resources we have, we’re unable to deliver what we’re hearing from them that they want.”

For more information about transportation issues, please contact Tracy King, vice president of governmental affairs for the Missouri Chamber, at or by phone at 573-634-3511.


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