Reason in Jefferson City
I was lucky enough to be able to attend yesterday’s Joint Transportation Committee meeting in Jefferson City. The Chairman of the Committee, Sen. Bill Stouffer, deserves kudos for arranging a terrific and informative meeting. The Chair of the House transportation committee, Rep. Neal St. Onge, vice-chairs the joint committee, and he also deserves credit for its success.
The meeting took all day and covered a number of areas, but it was dominated by discussions of public- private partnerships and toll roads. The legislators who participated deserve credit for asking a number of good questions about the issues of tolls, PPPs, truck-only lanes, and more. In my mind, one legislator that stood out with her insightful questions of the speakers was Rep. Robin Wright-Jones.
David Horner, with the Federal Department of Transportation, was surprisingly forthright about the declines in future federal highway funding amounts and support at the federal level for states to enter into PPPs with private companies for major projects in the future.
The high point of the meeting was the panel discussion that included Jack Finn of HNTB and Robert Poole with the Reason Foundation, who was the star of the show. Poole talked about the uses of tolls nationwide, the potential for truck-only lanes, the limitations of gas tax funding for roads, and the limitations of governmet toll agencies as opposed to PPPs. I highly recommend these three reports, which give a great summary of Reason’s positions. Mr. Poole recommended that Missouri give serious consideration to tolled truck-only lanes along I-70, and that we offset the toll for trucks by allowing them to add a third trailer while using the truck-only lanes.
The co-star of the show was Texas state representative Mike Krusee, who has led efforts in Texas to build new roads through tolls and PPPs. While those efforts suffered some tentative setbacks this past legislative session, they are nonetheless moving forward although the state imposed a two-year moratorium on toll projects, it exempted a number of projects that had already begun. Rep. Krusee aimed head-on at the current Missouri proposals to increase the state sales tax to pay for road improvements. He explained that a gas tax does not force the true users of roads to pay for new highways, as the tax can hit a poor person driving an older car with poor gas mileage, who drives almost entirely on city streets, just as hard as it could a suburban mom driving a newer car who uses the brand-new, multi-million-dollar highway extension or interchange all the time. Rep. Krussee’s argument is that the people who actually use the new highways should pay for them, in the form of tolls, as they do in his area around Austin. After he tore apart justifications for the gas tax, he said the idea of a sales tax to pay for new roads was even worse, because it could just as easily affect someone who rarely drives as it could someone who drives all the time.
I think the legislators on the joint committee greatly benefitted from having these cutting-edge ideas in transportation presented to them at the meeting. We at the Show-Me Institute look forward to being a part of the debate as to how Missouri will fund its undeniable transportation needs.