Missouri Transportation Funding Proposal unveiled--what does it do for bike/ped?

After many years of discussion and a series of meetings across Missouri last year by a Blue Ribbon Committee, the first concrete, public proposal for new funding for Missouri transportation was unveiled last week. Missouri Highway and Transportation Committee Chair Rudy Farber proposed a temporary, ten-year 1 cent sales tax that would be entirely devoted to Missouri's transportation.

This is the first new funding proposal for Missouri transportation in about 20 years--and we see it as a golden opportunity to improve bicycling, walking, and safety in Missouri. 

Waiting for MoDOT by Zaskem on FlickR
Waiting for MoDOT by Zaskem on FlickR

Throughout much of the 20th Century, Missouri roads, highways, and communities were built to exclude bicycling and walking--and much of the reason was the way our transportation funding was structured.

If you're not allowed to spend transportation dollars on bicycling and walking facilities--well then, how will they be built?  The answer for much of the 20th Century is, they simply were not built.

With any new transportation funding source, we must turn this dynamic on its head. Bicycle and pedestrian facilities must be allowed--and even more than that, expected and encouraged.

What is in the new proposal?

With that in mind, what is in Farber's proposal?

  • A ten-year, one cent sales tax on all items except medicine, groceries, and gasoline
  • 90% of the funds raised will go to MoDOT, the remaining 10% split evenly between cities and counties
  • The proposal will raise about $790 million per year
  • MoDOT will create a list of projects they will build with the funding, and provide an annual report of projects
  • The proposal will require approval by the General Assembly, then go to a popular vote in August or November
  • The proposal will include a constitutional amendment, and the money raised will be earmarked solely for transportation

The proposal will raise about $80 million per year for cities and counties--doubling the amount cities and counties currently receive under the State Road Fund.

How does the proposal treat bicycling and walking?

The proposal is general in nature and does not include specific legislative language.  The details will be very important, and we don't have them yet.

But several details within the recommendation are very encouraging.  For the portion of the funds set aside for cities and counties, the report states: 

Local governments would have full discretion to spend the money on any transportation-related activities (existing revenue can only be spent on roads and bridges). This would allow local governments to fund transportation projects based on their constituents’ priorities, including multimodal investments.
As the report notes, this will be a very significant improvement over the current situation for state road funds, which are very restricted in their use.
 
We need to ensure that the 90% of funds dedicated to MoDOT have a similar flexibility in their use. Currently MoDOT is very reluctant to spend state road funds on bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, because these funds are restricted to use on roads and highways--and Missouri courts have interpreted these restrictions very conservatively.
 
The proposal does not give specifics about the restrictions that will be put on MoDOT's use of the funds, but the good news is that the proposal does include bicycle and pedestrian projects in the list of proposed projects.  For instance, the proposal sets aside $5.15 billion over the ten-year period for "Other New Transportation Needs"--which the proposal says "include investments for roads, bridges, rail, transit, freight, waterways, aviation, bicycle/pedestrian and all other construction program costs".
 
Our expectations of the new policy
The next step is the Missouri General Assembly, where this proposal will be debated and refined.  In our meetings with General Assembly members, Missouri Highway and Transportation Commission members, and MoDOT officials this Spring, we will make these requests: 
Missouri cyclist
Missouri cyclist
  • For both MoDOT and city/state portions of any new funding, bicycle and pedestrian facilities must be an allowed use of funds.
  • MoDOT top management has previously committed to us to update and modernize its pedestrian and bicycle policies, to ensure that appropriate bicycle and pedestrian facilities are included in all construction projects were needed and appropriate. MoDOT has updated and made great improvements to its ADA and pedestrian policies. However, the bicycle policy still remains to be updated--and it is very important that this is completed before this new funding source is approved.
  • In all project lists for the proposed new funding:
    • Bicycle and pedestrian elements should be included in all road and highway projects, as appropriate and needed
    • Bicycle and pedestrian projects should receive their full, fair share of the total funding and be represented on all project lists--at minimum in proportion to current use (bicyclists and pedestrians represent 6.5% of trips in Missouri, 7.5% of roadway fatalities, and 15% of roadway injuries)

With these elements in place, we believe that Missourians who support bicycling and walking and fully support funding for Missouri's vital transportation needs. If any of these elements are absent, however, it will be impossible to support transportation funding that fails to meet the needs of all Missourians.

UPDATE - What the new legislation will look like

After posting this article, I spent a day with MoBikeFed Board Members and our lobbyist, Jim Farrell, in Jefferson City visiting with key members of the Missouri House and Senate Transportation Committees.

Based on those conversations, the outlook for the legislation itself is very positive:

  • Most members and leaders of the Transportation Committees understand the importance of providing a fair share for biking and walking in any new transportation funding proposal
  • The proposed legislation will allow bicycling, walking, and transit to be funded by the new funding sources, in both the MoDOT and the city/county portions of the fund
  • The legislation will put much more of the transportation decision-making power in the hands of local communities, who are far more likely to understand and support the diverse needs of citizens in their communities
  • The big question is, will this funding proposal pass the General Assembly at all--or will our elected leaders pass on the opportunity to set the state's transportation future?  A small group of legislators has historically been dead set against any tax increase for any reason, and if they scuttle these legislative proposals, the new transportation funding initiative is sure to be taken up by well funded private groups.  Those groups can put language on the ballot without going through the careful legislative and vetting process the General Assembly is capable of doing (when it's working at its best . . . ).

We've outlined the next steps and how you can help in this article.

Stay tuned--this is the best chance we'll have to make Missouri a better, safer place to walk and bicycle in a generation!

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