Transportation Planner Meeting April 28, 2021 Teleconference

April MoDOT Planning Partner Meeting – MoDOT Director Patrick McKenna

Fuel Tax

  • MoDOT Director Patrick McKenna updated the group on the legislative progress on the proposed fuel tax increase. Senate Bill 262 was passed out of the full Senate by a vote of 31-13 and most recently was approved out of the House committee process by a unanimous 13-0 vote by the House Transportation Committee chaired by Rep. Becky Ruth.
  • “This is as far as we have come to get some movement on the fuel tax front in the past 25 years,” said McKenna. He noted it was perfect timing in light of the apparent transportation and infrastructure funding increases being proposed by the federal government.
  • McKenna praised the efforts of Rep. Ruth, who authored the house version of the fuel tax increase and was responsible for introducing the South Carolina model which offers a tax refund option, into the Missouri plans. “Rep. Ruth deserves a lot of credit for getting this as far as we have come,” he said. He praised her efforts on her own time to travel and research the tax refund options.
  • Despite what he called a great hearing, which featured a significant number of parties testifying in favor of the legislation and not a single opponent, McKenna noted the bill still faces a challenge to make it out of the House and into law. “We are cautiously optimistic, but would still handicap it at around a 50/50 chance of getting completed,” he said. McKenna noted the key obstacle is simply time, as the current legislative session is set to conclude on May 14th. The bill advanced out of the committee to the House Rules committee for perfection before potentially being called for a vote of the full House.
  • McKenna discussed initial projections on the tax refund portion of the bill, and noted he expected that Missouri would likely exceed the 15% of revenues that are refunded in South Carolina. He noted that SB 262 had some built-in protection for that, as it was expanded to seek 2.5-cent increases each of the next five years as opposed to the original wording that had proposed a 2-cent tax increase.

Federal Funding

  • McKenna discussed the current partisan wrangling surrounding federal infrastructure spending proposals. The $2.1 trillion proposal from President Biden only included an estimated $115 billion for bridges, highways, roads and streets. It has highlighted as much as $620 billion for “transportation” but that includes $80 billion for Amtrak, $175 billion for electric vehicle development, $25 billion for airports and $17 billion for ports.
  • The Republican counterproposal comes it was a much lower $568 billion total price tag, with $299 billion allocated for roads and bridges.
  • MoDOT’s Eric Schroeter, assistant to the Chief Engineer, discussed MoDOT’s work related to the newly revived federal earmarks. He reported that MoDOT met with the state’s federal lawmakers individually and shared STIP projects in their districts as well as major bridge projects ands the newly approved unfunded needs lists, hoping to transportation needs that are ready to be delivered.         

Q&A

Unfunded Needs

  • NEMO RPC requested an update on proposals for a Tier III and multimodal lists for the new 2021 unfunded needs list.
  • Director McKenna said no dates have been set yet but he envisioned an end of August target date to allow additional public involvement, which would also matchup well with the federal funding situation with the transportation bill needing to either be reauthorized in September or a new five-year bill be approved.

Earmarks

  • Questions were raised regarding any requirements that federal transportation earmarks having to be in the STIP.
  • The MoDOT reps noted that it is not officially a requirement, but that the preference appears to be to have projects that are already in the planning process to ensure they are readily deliverable. They also noted there is a $20 million limit per representative.

COVID

  • A question was asked about when MoDOT we be returning to the office from the current COVID-induced virtual setting.
  • Director McKenna indicated MoDOT is close to returning to work in person after experiencing more than 800 cases of COVID during the pandemic.

RAISE Federal Transportation Grants

  • When asked about the new RAISE federal transportation grants, McKenna indicated that MoDOT would not be pursuing the funding option, instead allowing local entities to pursue funding for perceived needs. “We don’t want to push out those projects from consideration,” he said.

 Chris Feeney – NEMO RPC / 660-465-7281 Ext. 6 / chrisfeeney@nemorpc.org