Missouri Lawmaker: Give Costly Roads To Counties

Lawmakers in the state of Missouri may consider turning over responsibility for maintaining and funding state roads and bridges to counties in an effort to address state transportation funding shortfalls, reports The Kansas City Star  – though it is unclear how such a move would reduce overall infrastructure investment needs or align revenues with obligations more strategically.

Missouri state funds for road and bridge repair fell from $1.3 billion in 2009 to $800 million in 2017 – and the political will does not appear to exist to raise the gas tax. The Kansas City Star quotes incoming House Speaker Pro Tem Elijah Haahr:

Haahr suggested turning some local roads and bridges back over to county governments and providing block grants to help fund their upkeep.

“The state would maintain primary transportation arteries,” he said, “but local roads and bridges, we’d give them back to the counties so they could prioritize what projects are most important to their communities.”

To the extent that this approach would alleviate burden on the state budget by passing the costs over and above the block grants to counties, it is unclear how counties would foot the bills. For one thing, counties would not benefit from the economies of scale inherent from purchasing supplies and equipment in larger quantities, indicates Patrick McKenna, Director of the Missouri Department of Transportation. Read more here.

Counties in Missouri currently own 56 percent of the roads in the state and 52 percent of the bridges, according to data provided by NACo. In comparison, Maryland counties own 74 percent of the public roads. In fiscal 2013, Missouri counties received about 12 percent of the total state-collected gas tax revenues to fund county roads and bridges, in addition to shares of other highway user revenues. In comparison, 23 Maryland counties received 1.4 percent of Maryland’s highway user revenues in fiscal 2013.

While Missouri counties have the option to create special taxing districts called Transportation Development Districts to fund transportation improvements, it is unclear whether any more political will exists for those tax increases than for those at the state level.