New $8 billion Missouri transportation funding bill: Bike, ped, mass transit to make Missouri Constitution?

The bills creating a constitutional amendment for new transportation funding in Missouri read in part:

The term  "transportation  system  purposes and uses" shall include authority for the commission, any county or city to plan, locate, relocate, establish, acquire, construct, maintain, control, operate, develop, and fund public transportation  facilities such  as, but not limited to, aviation, mass transportation, transportation of elderly and handicapped, railroads, ports, waterborne commerce, intermodal connections, bicycle, and pedestrian improvements.

Together with supporters like you, MoBikeFed and our allies across Missouri have been working for more than eight years for this day--the day when a concrete proposal for funding new transportation in Missouri was put before voters. 

We were determined that any new funding proposal include a fair share of funding for bicycling and walking.  Bicycling and walking make up 6.5% of trips,7.5% of fatalities, and 15% of injuries in Missouri--but receive almost no support at all from state road funds.

Together, we have changed the discussion about transportation in Missouri.  It now includes issues like transit, bicycling, and walking as a matter of course.  And the proof is above--the text of a constitutional amendment proposed by key members of the Missouri Senate and House Transportation Committees yesterday specifically allows all new funding created by the tax to be used for transportation system purposes and uses, including mass transportation, bicycling, and walking.

If approved by the Missouri General Assembly and Missouri voters later this year, that means that bicycling walking will--for the first time ever!--be specifically included in the Missouri Constitution.

It also means that, for the first time ever, MoDOT and all Missouri cities and counties that will receive a portion of this transportation funding, will be allowed to spend state transportation dollars on bicycle and pedestrian projects.

What is in the bill--it's all good, so far . . . 

As far as it goes, the wording of this bill is exactly what we were asking for and what we were hoping for: 

  1. It allows the transportation dollars to be spent on bicycling and walking in any way--as part of road or highway projects, or as part of separate standalone projects
  2. MoDOT receives 90% of the new funds, cities 5%, and counties 5%.  Bicycling, walking, and transit are an allowed use of all of these funds by each of these entities--MoDOT, cities, and counties.
  3. It allows each entity to set its own priorities.  Some cities and counties may spend no money at all on bicycling, walking, and transit.  Some may spend over 50% of their funds on bicycling, walking, and transit.  It will be up to each agency or municipality to set its own agenda, and each may set the agenda that makes the most sense in its local context.

The third point, especially, means that it will be incumbent on citizens supporting bicycling and walking to lobby their own city, county, and local MoDOT district to spend a fair share of the new transportation funds on bicycling and walking.  But the opportunity for very significant funding for bicycling and walking is there, if voters make their wishes known.  

Just for example: If cities and counties--or MoDOT as a whole--adopts a Complete Streets policy, that means that this new transportation spending will become "Complete Streets Funding."  Point is--it leaves it up to us to work with local authorities to create those policies.

And given that bicycle, pedestrian, and transit funding is specifically allowed and mentioned in the Constitutional Amendment creating the funding, it will be very difficult for cities, counties, and MoDOT to continue spending no money on biking and walking--especially if citizens are asking for it.

What's missing?

The key element that is missing, and that MoBikeFed and other allied groups have strongly supported, is an element of local accountability in the prioritization and spending of MoDOT's portion of the new transportation funds.

MoDOT works closely with its local "planning partners"--Metropolitan Planning Organizations and Regional Planning Commissions.  These consist of representatives of local governments and agencies and are much closer to the needs of local citizens and voters than is MoDOT itself, as a state agency.  MoDOT has increasingly relied on these local planning partners to set its transportation policies and direction.

It would make sense, and would add an important element of accountability to the new funding, if this relationship between MoDOT and local communities were formalized in this new legislation. 

From a bicycle and pedestrian perspective: The more transportation decision making is pushed down to the local level, the more funds we typically see spent on the bicycle and pedestrian needs that local citizens want and need.

Whats next?

The bill is a good first step and has almost everything we were asking for.

But the proof of this pudding will be in the next steps, which will give as a very clear idea of where MoDOT is actually planning to use the new freedom it will have to spend this new funding in Missouri's total transportation needs, including bicycling and walking. 

Attending the MoDOT Listening Sessions, held across Missouri between now and April, to ask for improvements to MoDOT's bicycle and pedestrian policy and to ask for specific bike/ped projects to be funded, is vital.

Specific asks that bike/ped supporters like you can make at these Listening Sessions:

  1. Fair Share for Bicycling and Walking: Bicycle and pedestrian projects should receive their fair share of any new transportation funding.  Bicyclists and pedestrians make 6.5% of trips in Missouri, 7.5% of fatalities, and 15% of roadway injuries (according to Missouri Department of Health Emergency Room Data--which gives far different numbers than the Highway Patrol Data that MoDOT typically relies on, because the Highway Patrol system dramatically undercounts bicycle injuries). Will they receive that proportion of the new funding? 
  2. Bike/ped in every project: Every proposed road or highway project should included bicycle and pedestrian elements as needed and appropriate--ie, sidewalks, crosswalks, shoulders, bike lanes. Not every road needs these elements--but every road that needs them, should include them.
  3. Update MoDOT's outdated bicycle policy: MoDOT has worked hard to improve their internal pedestrian and ADA policies.  But MoDOT's internal bicycle policy still needs updating. Can MoDOT get its bicycle policy updated before this new funding proposal comes to a vote?
  4. Bike/Ped in MoDOT's Long-Range Plan: MoDOT's upcoming Long-Range Plan should include a complete section on bike/ped and develop a prioritized list of high priority bicycle and pedestrian projects of statewide importance.  This was a lesson learned from MoDOT's most recent Long-Range Plan (2007), which mentioned bike/ped only in passing, and MoBikeFed's High Priority Bike/Ped ADA Project List, which very clearly identified a need.
  5. Propose specific, most-needed, bike/ped projects for MoDOT's project list: The main purpose of the listening Sessions is to develop a project list.  What exactly is MoDOT planning to do with this $8 billion in new funding?  This project list will give the answer. So it is essential that bike/ped receive it's fair share of projects on this list--we should be looking at between 6.5% and 15% of total funding for bike/ped. So, think about the most important, most vital, most needed bicycle and pedestrian projects on MoDOT roads and highways in your area (most roads with letters or numbers are MoDOT roads, every city has some and most often they are the main roads in the area--Route C, Highway 40, US 69, Interstate 35).  What roads and bridges are missing sidewalks, missing crosswalks, missing shoulders, missing bike lanes? Suggest those projects to MoDOT.  Bike/Ped/ADA Project list and ideas are here.

And will it pass?

This bill faces two significant hurdles:

  • It must be approved by the Missouri General Assembly, where many legislators are dead set against new taxes in any form--though those who understand that the new bill is simply replacing lost revenue in the gas tax of the State Road Fund due to loss of buying power thanks to inflation, increasing vehicle mileage, and other factors, may be more inclined to support the transportation funding plan as a "revenue replacement package".  Right now, Missouri transportation funding levels are at a historic low and this funding proposal simply puts them back close to the historic average.  So is that really new funding?  That is what the argument in the Missouri General Assembly will be about.
  • It must be approved by Missouri voters. Will Missourians support the funding needed to maintain our system of roads and highways and support our other transportation needs?  We believe that the inclusion of bicycling, walking, and transit as integral elements of new transportation funding makes this far more likely.  But it will be a tough battle, and supporters of the transportation funding proposal will need every ally they can find. 

Supporters of bicycling and walking will play a key role in approving this proposal when it comes to the ballot box--or in defeating it, if MoDOT is not willing to include a fair share for bicycling and walking in its project list.

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