Missouri Highway 47

The vision to widen Highway 47 between Washington and St. Clair has a chance of becoming a reality due to the passage of a bill this week that will allow state voters to decide whether to impose a three-quarter-cent transportation sales tax on themselves.

If voters approve the tax, it could provide revenue for the Highway 47 widening project, which at times has seemed unreachable

But now it is within grasp since the proposed sales tax would provide a funding mechanism for the project, which would cost millions of dollars.

The election could be held in November or at a special election called by the governor. If approved it would be in effect for 10 years and then would require another vote of the people to remain in place.

State Reps. Dave Hinson, R-St. Clair, and  Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, supported the bill to give voters a chance to decide whether to impose the tax on themselves to improve transportation infrastructure across the state.

State Sen. Brian Nieves, R-Washington, and State Rep. Paul Curtman, R-Pacific, opposed it. The House gave final approval of the bill this week.

Local Reaction

First District County Commissioner Tim Brinker said giving the voters a chance to vote on the transportation sales tax is good for Franklin County and Missouri. 

Solid infrastructure “always denotes good potential for economic development and quality of life enhancements,” Brinker said. Good roads can attract new businesses as well as support existing ones by providing effective ways to transport products and services, Brinker added.

There has been a misconception that the transportation sales tax bill is a tax increase, Brinker said.

“What passed was an infrastructure enhancement opportunity,” he said, adding that the people get to decide whether they want to approve it or not.

Current transportation funding is not even enough to maintain existing infrastructure, Brinker said. People must understand that the tax would benefit the local area, he added. Not only could it provide funding to widen Highway 47 but also Highway 50 in Franklin County to Jefferson City, he said.

Washington Mayor Sandy Lucy said she was very pleased that the bill passed to give voters a chance to decide whether they want to raise the sales tax for transportation.

With current funding sources for transportation, such as the gas tax, declining due to more fuel-efficient vehicles, there is a funding shortfall, Lucy noted.

There are a lot of transportation needs in Franklin County, Lucy said, noting that Highway 47 is a major concern. The stretch between Washington and Union can become very congested during peak hours, she added.

Now that the Legislature has passed the bill, the tough work begins for the Missouri Department of Transportation and others to get the word out and garner support for the tax, Lucy said.

Union Mayor Mike Livengood said he has mixed emotions about the sales tax. 

“I have to question how MoDOT got in this bad of shape,” he said. “I know there is the need to improve highway and transportation in the state, but is this the way to do it?”

He noted that an Internet sales tax would be more equitable. 

Funding Shortage

According to a MoDOT report, the agency had $1.3 billion in road and bridge funding in 2009, and that is expected to drop to $325 million by 2018 unless additional revenue is located.

The funding reductions are due to the gas tax not being raised in 20 years, inflation and a loss of temporary funding, the MoDOT report states.

The original bill would have allowed voters to vote on a 1-cent sales tax increase for transportation projects, but the amount was scaled down to three-quarters of a cent in the Senate.

Schatz said the lower amount was a compromise and will still generate significant revenue for transportation if approved.

The transportation sales tax bill failed to pass last year after it was filibustered in the Senate during the final days of the legislative session.

The Associated Press reported that 90 percent of the money, or an estimated $480 million a year, would go to state transportation projects and the other 10 percent, or $54 million a year, would be allocated to cities and counties.

The sales tax would not apply to the retail sale of food.

Examples of projects that could be funded with the tax include mass transportation, facilities for the elderly and handicapped, railroads, ports, and pedestrian and bicycle paths.

State and local governments could not raise the fuel tax or operate toll roads while the tax was in effect.

The bill also requires that the state highways and transportation commission approve a list of projects to be funded with the tax before it takes effect. Projects that improve safety would be given priority.

Each year, the transportation commission would submit to the governor and general assembly a status report on the projects.

Union Missourian Editor Gregg Jones contributed to this story.