Missouri’s Changing Transportation Paradigm
Successful societies and growing economies have always depended on efficient transportation. Witness the roads of the Roman Empire, the canals of the Ming Dynasty, the ships of the British Empire, and the railroads that connected the American frontier. The Interstate Highway System, which began to be developed in the United States more than 50 years ago, parallels those earlier achievements. It helped facilitate the tremendous economic growth of the post–World War II era.
Will Missouri meet its future transportation needs by adapting to new demands and technologies, as it did during the 20th century? As cars have become more efficient, the fuel taxes used to fund the state’s highways have leveled off — but the transportation needs of the state have not. Other states have looked to the private sector to provide transportation infrastructure, as a means of augmenting gas taxes. The people of Missouri would be well-served if officials were to give this new paradigm strong consideration as the economy evolves.
The use of private companies to provide public assets, such as a new highway or bridge, is called a “public-private partnership.” This study describes the ways in which such partnerships can be used to address Missouri’s transportation needs. Although state toll roads are currently unconstitutional in Missouri, other methods of tolling are not, including privately operated — but publicly owned — toll roads, high-occupancy toll lanes that waive fees for cars meeting passenger requirements, truck-only toll lanes that allow extra carrying capacity, and competitively contracted mass transit services. These options are worthy of careful examination as officials address the state’s infrastructure needs.
Public roads, funded by gas taxes, will be the primary model for transportation in Missouri far into the foreseeable future. However, the options that public-private partnerships facilitate should be a part of the discussion for future transportation projects and plans. The authors hope that this study will help to enable such conversations.