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With the seventh largest road and bridge system in the nation and the second lowest fuel tax, MoDOT’s growing asset management needs are colliding with the state’s unwillingness to raise its 17-cent fuel tax that was established in 1996.
Memphis, MO —3/23/2021 — Concerned about declining conditions on the lettered routes that serve as the primary connections for the bulk of the county’s population, a number of Scotland County residents recently traveled to Jefferson City on the invitation of Representative Greg Sharpe to help raise the alarm about similar conditions across northern Missouri. Joyce Harvey of rural Scotland County led the group of concerned citizens that were joined by representatives of the Northeast Missouri Regional Planning Commission in an effort to highlight the disparity in pavement conditions on low volume roads in Scotland County as compared to the rest of the state.
“The Missouri Highway and Transportation Commission has established a goal for the Missouri Department of Transportation to keep at least 70% of the state’s low volume roads in good condition,” said NEMO RPC Transportation Planner Chris Feeney. “MoDOT’s top priority is asset management – taking care of the system, and they have the goal of 90% good pavement condition on major routes, 80% good on minor routes, and 70% good on low volume routes.”
Unfortunately, while that goal is being met at the state level, Scotland County is among a handful of counties in the MoDOT northeast district that have fallen below the target. Five of the six counties served by the NEMO RPC have pavement conditions on lettered routes well below the established threshold. Utilizing the 2019 MoDOT data (latest available info), Schuyler County has just 36% of its low volume roads with pavement condition rated “good” by MoDOT standards. That is the second lowest total in the state. Clark County has just 41% rated good while Scotland County lettered routes were just 49% good in 2019. Adair County had a 52% ranking and Lewis County was at 63%. Knox County at 74% was the lone NEMO RPC county above the state goal. Fellow northeast MoDOT district counties Macon and Randolph also fell below the 50% mark.
“I didn’t know all of these numbers until we met with the RPC folks, but we were very aware of how bad the lettered routes were getting in Scotland County because we travel them every day,” said Joyce Harvey.
She reached out to Representative Greg Sharpe to share concerns about the declining road conditions last winter and soon found herself traveling down those very same roads with her representative.
“It wasn’t too long after I had made contact with Rep. Sharpe that he came up to Memphis and saw first hand what I was talking about when he drove Routes B, C and CC with me,” she said. “After a few more conversations, he suggested I come down to Jefferson City and share the message.”
Harvey put together a small group of county residents and with the help of Rep. Sharpe, planned a visit to the state capitol on March 23rd. She contacted the NEMO RPC and a meeting was scheduled on March 18th prior to the trip to discuss the road concerns. The residents and the RPC staff were joined by the Scotland County commissioners as the group reviewed the pavement condition data for the county and the district provided by the RPC.
“This is something we have been working on for several months and already have seen some progress from MoDOT and the highway commission to dedicate additional funds to try to boost up some of the areas that have fallen behind the rest of the state,” said RPC Executive Director Derek Weber.
MoDOT has indicated plans for a new Maintenance Asset Management Deficit Program with $15 million allocated annually in the next several years to address operational shortfalls related to asset management issues handled inhouse and not contracted through construction. These funds will specifically target low volume road pavement condition and MoDOT has indicated the allocation of the funds will be formula driven to put that money directly where there is the need to equalize the asset performance. The funding influx is part of the roughly $200 million in federal COVID-19 relief for MoDOT.
A group consisting of Joyce and Joe Harvey, Tim and Barbie Slayton, Steve and Joan Morris, Jim and Janet Fishback, Feeney and Weber from Scotland County and Nakila Blessing from Schuyler County met with Rep. Sharpe, MoDOT Sr. Governmental Relations Specialist Luke Reed and MoDOT Deputy Director and Chief Engineer Ed Hassinger at the capitol on March 23rd. They discussed the poor condition of Scotland County’s low volume roads as well as concerns about several bridges, including the Route C bridge which is currently closed.
The conversations centered around needs for improvements in Scotland County and all across the state, highlighting revenue shortfalls tied to Missouri’s 17 cent fuel tax, which has not been increased since 1996 and thus through inflation has effectively dropped to just 6 cents in buying power according to the MoDOT Citizen’s Guide to Transportation Funding. The state maintains the 7th largest road system in the nation, with more than 33,000 miles of roads and 10,397 bridges, using the second lowest fuel tax rate. By comparison, Iowa maintains just 8,893 miles of roads with a 30.5 cent fuel tax and Illinois uses a 38.7 cent fuel tax for its 15,900 miles of roads. Missouri’s revenue per mile is $57,151 while the national average is $241,277. Missouri was ranked #1 out of all 50 states for the lowest total expenditures per state-controlled lane-mile combined for maintenance, capital and bridge projects and administrative costs in the 25th Annual Highway Report by the Reason Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan libertarian public policy research organization.
Following the initial gathering, the Scotland County group was able to meet with Senator Cindy O’Laughlin and discussed her opposition to Senate Bill 262 that is proposing to raise the state fuel tax 2.5 cents a year each of the next five years until it reaches 29.5 cents in 2026. The bill was approved by the Senate and now a fuel tax increase is in the hands of the Missouri House of Representatives.
“She told us she opposed the tax increase for a number of reasons including the fact the state currently has a budget surplus,” said Joyce Harvey. “When we asked how to get access to this pile of money to try and fix our roads, she told us to talk with the governor. So, we when we concluded our conversation with her, our next stop was the governor’s office.”
The group was not able to discuss the issue with the governor, who was in another meeting, but was able to leave him information highlighting their concerns about the county’s low volume roads, before concluding a long afternoon of meetings.
“Honestly, we didn’t know what to anticipate as far as the meetings, so we probably had limited expectations when we headed down to Jefferson City,” said Harvey. “We were very pleased with all of the people who took time to hear our concerns and have already received follow up calls from Paula Gough and Ed Hassinger from MoDOT and Rep. Sharpe and the governor’s office. It definitely made us feel like they are listening,” said Harvey. “It was a learning experience. We will be better prepared for when me make our next visit to follow up.”