Governor Nixon urges lawmakers to increase fuel tax for transportation improvements

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SUGAR CREEK, Mo. -- The site of an emergency bridge closure became the backdrop for Governor Jay Nixon’s plea to lawmakers to pass legislation he says will generate more money to fix the state’s infrastructure.

The Missouri Department of Transportation closed the northbound lanes of the 291 Bridge in Sugar Creek on Wednesday, following a routine inspection that revealed accelerated rates of corrosion in the joints of the bridge, the place that carries the weight.

Thursday morning the governor encouraged lawmakers to pass a bill that would increase the tax on motor fuels by 1.5 cents and the diesel tax by 3.5 cents. He made this call during his State of the State back in January and said the emergency closure of the northbound 291 bridge is a perfect example of why that legislation needs to pass.

“Obviously if you’ve got a beam with a hole in it, you shouldn’t be driving over the top of it,” Nixon said.

There’s just more than a week remaining for lawmakers to vote during this session of the General Assembly. Without action, the governor said Missouri won’t have enough revenue to match federal dollars, meaning when people pay fees at the pump, it could go toward improvements in other states.

Without repairs, he said we’ll continue to see more traffic, less safety, and fewer jobs. Nixon said, while pointing to the closed bridge,

“Missourians are going to have an opportunity to vote tonight. They’re going to be sitting in lines right here, trying to get home from work. They’re going to be sitting here for hours. And maybe someday real soon, another bridge is going to come to a meeting, or another district engineer is going to get a report out there. We have an eroding system,” he said.

The governor said the Missouri motor fuels tax hasn’t seen an increase in almost 20 years, and it’s the fifth-lowest in the nation. If the bill gets the 18 senate votes it needs, it’ll head to the governor’s desk. His office said the tax increase will go into effect January 1, 2016.

MoDOT engineer Jesse Skinner took FOX 4 on top of the 291 Bridge Thursday.

“You can see here the bridge has been painted relatively recently, but this is a 66-year-old bridge,” he said.

Routine inspections of river bridges are scheduled every other year. Skinner said inspectors will, “measure and say the crack is this big,” showing with his hands an example of what they’re looking for.

“With a big bridge like this, you need special equipment to get underneath the bridge and see it up close,” he continued.

Skinner told FOX 4 the corrosion they found built up much faster than anticipated during the last round of repairs, back in 2009.

“It really wasn’t that bad a couple years ago and over a relatively short period of time, the deterioration has accelerated,” Skinner said.

He said this is due in part to water and salt exposure, to a critical part of the bridge’s structure.

“This is definitely supporting the weight of the bridge on this end,” Skinner said.

Skinner said these needed repairs were caught in time, on this bridge, but felt it’s an example that illustrates a need across the state. “It requires additional funding that we don’t have at this time.”

Governor Nixon echoed those thoughts and used the bridge as a backdrop Thursday morning.

“Many of our most important roadways are in significant need of repair. That means more traffic, less safety, fewer jobs. If we don’t add revenue, then we’re not even going to be able to match the federal dollars by 2017. You’re going to be gapping away, giving up hundreds of millions of dollars a year,” the governor said.

Nixon believes these are funds that should go into repairs and jobs for those who live and drive in Missouri. “This bill needs to get to my desk this year. So that we can begin this important investment and put Missourians to work.”

MoDOT said there is no timeline yet for when the northbound 291 Bridge will re-open since it’s still early in the inspection and rehab planning.