Missouri makes road repairs a priority

| 2/4/2005

Missouri’s new transportation director pledged Feb. 2 to improve the state’s notoriously bad roads.

Pete Rahn, addressing the full Legislature for the first time since taking over the Missouri Department of Transportation last September, told lawmakers he’s determined to improve the quality of the state’s roads and bridges.

Money from a constitutional amendment, however, which shifted more state funds to pay for roads, is not going to be enough to make those improvements, Rahn said.

Amendment 3 shifted $40 million of vehicle sales tax revenue this year for roadwork. Voters overwhelmingly approved the amendment in November.

By 2009, the amendment is expected to shift $187 million a year from vehicle sales tax revenue, money that is now used for other state needs, to roads.

“Amendment 3 will buy us a couple of years, but we’re not going to be able to continue on the path we’re on,” Rahn told local media after his speech.

Rahn said he wants lawmakers to pass legislation to send as much as $13 million in sales tax paid by highway construction contractors for transportation needs. That money now goes into the state’s general fund.

Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Jon Dolan, R-Lake St. Louis, told The Kansas City Star legislators are drafting a bill around that idea.

Sen. Chuck Gross, R-St. Charles, also is sponsoring a measure – SB142 – that would exempt contractors from paying sales tax on materials bought for highway projects, which would reduce the cost of roadwork.

Rahn also urged legislators to pass a bill this session to allow police to pull over motorists for not wearing their seat belts. Motorists now can be ticketed for failure to buckle up only after being stopped for another traffic violation.

The policy, he said, could save 90 lives a year.

Passage also could enable Missouri to get more than $16 million in one-time federal funds, he said.

Rep. Neal St. Onge, R-Ballwin, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, is sponsoring a primary seat-belt bill. In the Senate, Dolan has made the seat-belt initiative one of his top priorities for this session.

St. Onge’s bill is HB339. Violators would be fined $20.