It’s mildly encouraging to see Missouri legislators come to a compromise on a modest plan to deal with some of the state’s neediest bridges.
But the bigger picture is that the General Assembly is in the final weeks of its 2019 session, and all legislators and the governor have come up with is a partial solution to part of the problem. Even the two competing ideas in play were themselves nothing more than Band-Aids, as Gov. Mike Parson said of his idea.
Nothing has been done – there is no apparent serious movement – on the overall issue of adequate funding to maintain roads and bridges and expand the system where appropriate, let alone a 10-figure project such as the long overdue rebuilding of Interstate 70.
Voters last fall said no to a rushed and poorly worded ballot question to raise the gas tax, and once again our leaders in Jefferson City had no Plan B. Yet the need grows day by day.
What’s on the table is a compromise that legislators have now agreed to. Parson wanted to issue bonds – borrow money, that is – to immediately address about 250 bridges most in need of work. Legislators raised an understandable point: Borrowed money doesn’t go as far thanks to interest. Still, the Legislature’s policy has been to delay and defer, and that can’t go on indefinitely. The governor’s idea was imperfect but reasonable.
A key legislator had a simpler but far shakier plan: Spend $100 million in general revenue in the next year, and do the same for another three years. That’s new. The state hasn’t dipped into general revenue for roads for a long time. Transportation money is earmarked for just that.
But there’s a huge catch. Look at the General Assembly’s record. What if there’s a hiccup in state revenues? What about the General Assembly’s mood swings? That $100 million for years two, three and four is as solid as ether.
So they compromised, though the deal hinges on federal money that hasn’t been approved yet. Stay tuned. The House still has to act.
In the messy way of things, one important project seems to have nudged legislators toward at least getting this much done. The I-70 bridge over the Missouri River near Rocheport is 60 years old and needs to be replaced, and the compromise includes that.
It would cost less to get a few more years out of that bridge with significant repairs, but that would mean closing two lanes for months and then the other two lanes for months. The hours-long backup in traffic, even on normal days, is something many drivers would find unacceptable. That too is a cost.
Think of two Kansas City examples: The long-term hassle of the recent repairs to the Buck O’Neill Bridge connecting downtown Kansas City to Platte County compared with the replacement a couple years ago of the I-70 bridge over the Manchester Trafficway area. We didn’t lose I-70 for months and months. New parallel bridges went up even as traffic sailed by on the old ones. The second of those is the far better idea if leaders can find the money. Simply replacing the Rocheport bridge, a key choke point in the system, is far preferable – if the money comes through.