The failure of the three-quarter cent transportation sales tax in this month’s primary election has shattered, for now, the hopes of getting funding anytime soon to widen Highway 47 between Washington and St. Clair.
The stretch of road is dangerous and congested, according to officials, who were hoping that the transportation sales tax would have provided $38 million for the project.
But with voters overwhelmingly rejecting the tax Aug. 5 in a vote of 591,041 to 407,586 (unofficial results) across the state and 12,739 to 7,887 (official results) in Franklin County, officials are left looking for answers to revenue shortages.
The “bottom line” on the transportation sales tax was that the people spoke, said First District County Commissioner Tim Brinker, who sits on the Highway 47 Corridor Committee.
Now that the tax has failed, widening Highway 47 is certainly not on a fast track, and people will continue to experience 20- to 30-minute delays on the roadway during certain times of the day until something is figured out, Brinker added.
The transportation funding issue must now go back to Missouri legislators to look for solutions, Brinker said, adding that the state’s infrastructure needs are of key importance.
Creating a local district with the cities of Union, Washington and St. Clair could be a way to generate revenue for the project, Brinker said, noting that it may take creative ideas to develop solutions.
Union Mayor Mike Livengood said traffic on Highway 47 is “unbearable” and that widening it is “definitely needed.”
But he does not see how the county and cities can pay for such a large project.
The state could look at other solutions, such as possibly raising the fuel tax, Livengood said. That way the heavy trucks that cause most of the road damage would help pay for the improvements, Livengood noted.
Creating an Internet sales tax is another way the state could generate money, which could be transferred to MoDOT, Livengood added. Some states have closed the Internet sales tax loophole, but in Missouri online retailers have the advantage of selling products without having to charge a sales tax to consumers, he said. This can put local merchants at a disadvantage, Livengood noted.
Other roads, such as Highway 50, also need to be improved, Livengood said. But sales taxes have shown to generate little support, so other solutions must be developed, he said.
Another idea is just looking at practical cuts to the state budget to come up with revenue, Livengood said.
Washington Mayor Sandy Lucy said the failure of the transportation sales tax is a missed opportunity for the local area. Without the tax, MoDOT may have to make smaller improvements to 47 over a period of time rather than doing one big project, she said. For instance, Lucy said a project to improve Highway 47 around the Flat Creek bridge in Union is still slated for 2015 and that could help alleviate congestion.
The transportation sales tax would not have just generated revenue for Highway 47, but for projects across the state. It would have been in place for 10 years and would not have applied to prescription medicine or the retail sale of food.
The tax would have raised more than $500 million a year for transportation projects.
The Missouri Department of Transportation has said more revenue is needed for the state’s transportation system.
Now that the tax has failed, there will not be any planning studies for the Highway 47 project done at this time, said MoDOT Area Engineer Judy Wagner.
According to a MoDOT report, the agency had $1.3 billion in road and bridge funding in 2009 and $746 million in 2013. By 2017, it is estimated that MoDOT road and bridge funding will be $325 million unless additional revenue is received.