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No time for a wrong turn — Transportation leaders parse ideas to fix funding crisis

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Should Missouri raise our fuel tax this year? Would higher tobacco taxes help fix our transportation shortfall? How about more public-private partnerships? Is now the right time to bring back local cost sharing for infrastructure projects? Does the newly-passed federal highway bill solve Missouri’s problems?

For years, Missouri’s transportation leaders have been facing a historic funding crisis. As we begin 2016, they are now confronted with a new issue—parsing a diverse set of fresh proposals intended fix the crisis.

Leaders met to discuss these ideas during the Missouri Conference on Transportation, hosted on Jan. 28 by the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Stephen Miller, chairman of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission, started the discussion by noting that no matter which way the state decides to go, Missouri simply must generate more funding for transportation.

Likewise, Missouri Department of Transportation Director Patrick McKenna said that as other states invest in their infrastructure, Missouri could lose business if it fails to act soon.

Missouri House Speaker Todd Richardson has proposed bringing back MoDOT’s cost sharing program as a way to spur transportation improvements. However, he said that his idea won’t completely solve Missouri’s funding crisis.

Another funding idea came from David Agnew of Australia-based Macquarie. He suggested public-private partnerships could help Missouri move forward with transportation projects. One of his ideas involved privatizing Missouri assets, such as airports, as a way to generate funding.

Meanwhile, Missouri’s gas stations and convenience stores are supporting a proposal to raise road funding by increasing taxes on tobacco and fuel. Ron Leone of the Missouri Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association described how this idea would generate new funds.

As these many state-level options are considered, U.S. Rep. Sam Graves said the new federal highways bill will help boost funding in Missouri.

In addition to the funding discussion, the transportation conference also explored opportunities being created by our transportation system.

Aimee Andres with Inland Rivers Ports & Terminals, Inc. encouraged businesses to better utilize Missouri’s rivers for shipping.

Rep. Becky Ruth, a Republican from Festus, said that all of Missouri would benefit if the state would do more use our rivers as an economic resource.

Jason Hafemeister with the United States Department of Agriculture detailed the benefits of the Trans-Pacific Partnership being debated at the federal level. He said the new trade deal is needed to keep up with the global economy.

Also promoting global trade was Justin Lumadue with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He discussed the current excitement in the business community surrounding opportunities in Cuba.

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