Recently, the Post-Dispatch reported on area residents who want to direct more MoDOT funding to urban areas. Specifically, a League of Women Voters representative proposed that 90% of all highway revenues be spent in the county in which they were collected. According to the article,
“Moore [the representative] cited figures showing that Missouri spends the vast majority of its transportation funding in the rural areas of the state, even though more than 80 percent of the state's transportation dollars from gas and auto sales taxes come from the urban regions in and around St. Louis and Kansas City.”
Although Missouri does spend a significant amount on rural highways for structural reasons, MoDOT does not spend most of its money in rural areas, nor does it systematically underfund urban highways.
To show this, first we will look at total MoDOT capital and maintenance spending. As shown in the chart above, in 2013, 61% of total MoDOT outlays went to urban highways and 39% went to rural highways.
It’s clear that most spending happens in urban areas of the state, not rural ones. One might still think this is lopsided in favor of rural areas, as the vast majority of highway user fees come from urban areas. However, 86% of highway lane miles are in rural areas, and almost half of daily traffic in Missouri takes place in rural areas. Missouri’s rural highway system, mostly due to the Missouri State Routes (the letter routes), is the fourth largest rural highway system in the nation. While traffic per mile in rural areas is low outside of the interstates, roads need to be maintained and bridges need to be replaced.
Even though Missouri spends a significant amount of money on its rural highways, urban areas have not been starved. In fact, the latest Federal Highway Administration data shows that, whether one looks at how much money MoDOT spends per lane mile or vehicle, the state’s urban highway spending is at about at the national average.
Spending Per Lane Mile
Daily Vehicles Per Dollar Spent
Furthermore, MoDOT’s spending in Missouri’s largest urban areas has achieved enviable results. Both Saint Louis and Kansas City have significant highway capacity and low congestion. In Kansas City and Saint Louis, 80% or more of major highways are in good condition. That's excellent for a large metropolitan area and far better than cities like Indianapolis (62%), Milwaukee (38%), or Los Angeles (16%).
MoDOT’s continuing funding problems should prompt Missouri policy makers to consider the extent of the state highway system. Many lesser-used routes might be better handled at the local level, as they are in other states. Such a reform would allow to MoDOT to fund improvements and maintenance on both critical rural and urban thoroughfares. However, there is little evidence that MoDOT is starving its urban system as measured either by spending or current highway conditions.