JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri officials pledged Wednesday to rebuild hundreds of bridges, pave thousands of miles of roads and improve dozens of airports and sidewalks around the state if voters approve a transportation sales tax next month.
The state Highways and Transportation Commission endorsed a list of more than 800 projects totaling $4.8 billion that would be funded over the next decade by proposed Constitutional Amendment 7.
The Aug. 5 ballot measure asks voters whether to impose a three-quarters cent sales tax for transportation. Ninety percent of that money would go to the state, but local governments would get an estimated $540 million over a decade for their own projects.
Without more money, the Missouri Department of Transportation has said that it soon will be strained to maintain existing roads and won't be able to undertake major new projects.
The proposed sales tax "is a once in a generation opportunity," said transportation commission Chairman Steve Miller.
Missouri last raised taxes for highways in the 1990s by phasing in a motor fuel tax increase. A voter-approved measure shifted existing vehicles sales tax revenues to the highway agency about a decade ago. But this would mark the first time that a general sales tax has been imposed for transportation.
Opponents of the measure, including Gov. Jay Nixon, have said the sales tax would disproportionately hit the poor, who may spend a greater proportion of their income on consumer purchases.
Adolphus Pruitt, the president of the NAACP in St. Louis, told state transportation commissioners Wednesday that the tax wasn't fair and the project list should have been tilted more heavily to urban areas that generate the most tax revenues.
The final project list is similar to a draft released Monday to The Associated Press under an open-records request, with only one change, said Chief Engineer Ed Hassinger. It adds $2 million to replace a bridge over Interstate 29 in Kansas City, contingent upon the city providing $10 million in funding. That is offset by reducing state funding from $5 million to $3 million for a traffic management system in Clay and Platte counties.
The biggest project on the list is the reconstruction and widening of 200 miles of Interstate 70 between the St. Louis and Kansas City areas. It would receive $500 million from the sales tax, with the rest of the $1.5 billion project paid for through existing revenue sources.
The project list includes 330 new or improved bridges and 3,255 miles of resurfacing on roads, including 749 miles of wider shoulders that transportation officials said should improve safety.
The list also includes improvements for 71 sidewalks, 24 airports, 14 railroads and seven river ports around the state.
The projects are "a balance between taking care of the system and building a few new things that are important," said transportation commissioner Gregg Smith.
If approved by voters, the amendment would mark the first time that a portion of state transportation funding has been dedicated to walking and biking paths, said Brent Hugh, executive director of the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation.
"This will be the most important step for bicycling and walking in Missouri in a century," he said.
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