Shock: Transit Supporters Discover Sales Tax Will Go To Roads
This week, in expectation of new revenue from a proposed statewide sales tax, the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) voted to approve a plan to replace Broadway Bridge in Kansas City at the price of $200 million. The proposed bridge rebuild should act as a reminder to Missourians that the proposed sales tax will mainly subsidize deferred road and bridge projects throughout the state.
The Broadway Bridge is one of four major bridges that span the Missouri River in Kansas City. Built in 1954 and operated as a toll road until 1991, the bridge is heavily traveled. The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) had considered rebuilding the aging bridge and replacing its interchange at 6th street, but the $200 million price forced a cash-strapped MoDOT to defer the project.
With the proposed 0.75-cent statewide sales tax, the funding might be made available for the bridge. However, some in the media have pointed out (correctly) that the project will consume much of the new sales tax money set aside for the Kansas City area, leaving less for transit.
That should not surprise anyone. After all, it was MoDOT’s growing highway funding needs and dwindling revenues that prompted the call for the statewide sales tax in the first place. And in terms of mobility in Kansas City, it is clear that the Broadway Bridge has a greater impact than any conceivable transit project. The bridge carries more cars per day (approximately 41,000) than the entire Kansas City Area Transportation Authority (KCATA) bus system’s number of passengers each day, plus significant freight. It is far more cost effective than the half billion dollar streetcar expansion plan, which is likely to carry only 13,000 passengers per day.
While we might disagree with Kansas City’s transit supporters about priorities, they are right to think that using a sales tax to subsidize highway and bridge projects is unfair. After all, the thousands of drivers and truckers using the Broadway Bridge stand to benefit from a new bridge far more than the Kansas City residents who bike or walk to work, but they will pay for it equally.
And there is a better way. From 1956 to 1991, the Broadway Bridge operated as a toll bridge. That toll should be brought back (without the booths) to finance the construction and maintenance of the new bridge. If the toll were variably priced, the new bridge could guarantee congestion-free travel across the Missouri River.
Whether it is the Broadway Bridge or any other highway project, people should pay for them based on how much they actually use the route, which means gas taxes or tolls. Implementing a statewide sales tax is an unfair and economically unsound policy. The most likely result will be a highly political allocation of sales tax dollars and disappointment for transit supporters.