Federal Money for Roads and Bridges Won’t Fix Missouri’s Real Problem
A few months ago, Congress mulled a coronavirus spending bill focused on infrastructure for a so-called “Phase IV” package. While the proposed bill is on hold, it could resurface and Missouri should take note.
Both chambers of Congress had previously proposed infrastructure bills with roughly $300 billion dedicated to highways and bridges. Despite funding mechanisms not being finalized, the president has expressed support for an infrastructure bill, indicating similar bills may come up again in the near future. On a smaller scale, the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) received $61.7 million from the CARES Act.
Considering that MoDOT is routinely short on funding for road and bridge maintenance, more money is welcome. However, it won’t solve the long-term problem.
MoDOT faces a $745 million shortfall annually in “high-priority unfunded [road and bridge] transportation needs,” and roads and bridges are vital to Missouri’s economic and physical security.
Overreliance on federal money helped create MoDOT’s budget shortfall. Large federal stimulus packages are infrequent. The last stimulus money from the 2009 stimulus package came and went in a mere two years.
Depending on once-a-decade disaster dollars to adequately fund road and bridge maintenance is a poor strategy.
While additional infrastructure money will likely help, Missouri can help itself more by funding transportation through a self-sustaining method. Show-Me Institute analysts have long advocated for the expansion of user fees—like gas taxes or tolling—as a way to fund road and bridge maintenance. By tying the costs of driving to the costs of upkeep, MoDOT would have a more consistent revenue stream to perform necessary duties, as well as ensuring enough state funds are raised to receive matching federal funds.
Missouri can make itself less dependent on federal funds and provide MoDOT the funds it needs to keep our roads and bridges properly maintained. Potential federal infrastructure spending should not distract us from this goal.