No easy answer for transportation budget

By Travis McMullen Contributing Columnist

June 17, 2014

The Missouri Department of Transportation needs more money — it’s a standard problem that has been plaguing government agencies since the invention of government agencies: the people want optimum service at a minimum price. It’s somebody else syndrome: I want the finest automobile infrastructure that money can buy, but you better find anyone else to pay for it.

Just a short while ago, MoDOT looked to draw some funding from their most prominent piece of infrastructure: Missouri Interstate 70. Yes, the interstate that defines the baseball rivalry between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Kansas City Royals and represents the only part of Missouri that thousands of truckers and tourists have ever seen.

Making a section of I-70 into a toll road is really more of a Kansas thing. I’ve heard from multiple travelers who think of Kansas as nothing more than one big toll road. It’s probably quite a tall order, convincing people to pay to go through Kansas. Really, Kansas should pay people for gracing the state with their presence.

The border between Kansas and Missouri is already poorly defined sometimes and we don’t need to contribute to traveler confusion by doing what Kansas does. People might not know where Missouri ends and Kansas begins, and that would be a crime.

Maybe as Sedalians we should support an I-70 toll road: toll roads are shown to cause a reasonable amount of diversion — there are people who would risk their life and vehicle by taking a slightly less fit roadway before they would ever pay a little more to use their preferred path. Toll dodgers might go south to U.S. Highway 50.

I think we could see a little economic pickup along Broadway Boulevard, at least among the sort of businesses that appeal to travelers: restaurants and hotels and the like might do better business because of diverters from a tolled I-70. But that would mean that an already well used Broadway would see even more traffic and the lasting damage done to one of our major thoroughfares might not be worth a bit of highly specific stimulus.

The toll road thing wasn’t going over so well, so MoDOT is pushing for a transportation-centric statewide sales tax increase. It will not affect food, medicine or fuel. According to the MoDOT website, “Toll roads will not be implemented over the 10-year time period” if the amendment goes forward as planned.

But one of those exemptions seems a little strange — why would fuel prices be spared a road improvement tax? People who buy fuel are, uh, probably a little more likely to use Missouri’s roads than those who don’t, or can’t buy fuel as often. In fact, I’d say that for a lot of fuel consumers the road is absolutely the only place they’re going to be using their fuel. It’s the black blood of modern American life and the juice that fuels road degradation. By exempting fuel sales, we are relieving more of the burden of those who actually contribute to the problem and spreading it to the general populace.

Rest assured that if MoDOT can’t get the voters to approve their amendment then they will make I-70 into a toll road. At least a road toll would exclusively hit the people who are contributing to the problem and would bring a little out-of-state money into the system rather than just circulating Missouri’s money in a slightly different way.

Oh, and before you ask, guy using I-70 to traffic marijuana from Colorado, you can’t pay the toll in drugs no matter how high the value differential is between the stuff you’re offering and the actual price of the toll.