By KERRY SMITH, EDITOR, ST. LOUIS CONSTRUCTION NEWS AND REVIEW MAGAZINE
Passage of the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act bill, signed into law Nov. 15 by President Joe Biden, is a win for Missouri, says a regional transportation engineer, thanks to the state’s swiftness in passing a gas tax increase to raise enough dollars for the required federal match demanded by the federal spending bill.
Frank Weatherford, principal at TranSystems, credits Missouri lawmakers for passing a gradual gas tax increase – the first in 29 years – to allow the state to generate more than $500 million annually. Without passage of an increase, Missouri Dept. of Transportation officials predicted that the state would face an estimated $745 million annual funding shortfall for roads and bridges.
“We were very fortunate in Missouri that the legislature passed the gas tax increase (from 17 cents per gallon to 29.5 cents per gallon over five years) in order that we could match these new federal funds,” said Weatherford, “otherwise Missouri would have lost out on a four-to-one match. In a matter of weeks, Missouri pulled this off and made it happen. For states like ours where federal dollars are more than 50 percent of the state spend, it’s critical.”
Two subprograms contained in the new federal infrastructure bill, according to Weatherford, did not exist in previous federal transportation bills. They are: 1) A $6.4 billion carbon reduction program to allow for bicycle and pedestrian trails, transit and more, and 2) The PROTECT (Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative, Efficient and Cost Saving Transportation) program, which channels $7.3 billion formula funding plus $1.4 billion in competitive grand funding to shore up and improve resilience of the transportation network – including highways, public transport, rail, ports and natural barrier infrastructure.
Stephen Sandherr, CEO of the Associated General Contractors of America, said passage of the federal infrastructure bill also provides needed investments to make infrastructure more resilient to extreme weather events.
“Because of the bill’s passage, state and local officials will be able to invest in a more efficient supply chain network and improve roads and bridges to make them safer and more reliable,” Sandherr said.
Missouri AFL-CIO President Jake Hummel agreed, saying the investment will boost the construction, steelmaking and concrete/asphalt production industries.
“This is a shot in the arm to not just the construction industry but also to the manufacturing base in the state of Missouri,” said Hummel.