Ameren is donating 144 miles of the Rock Island railroad corridor to the State of Missouri, specifically the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
DNR plans to turn the 144-mile corridor into a bike trail, similar to the Katy Trail.
My guess is some of our supporters would argue government’s job is not building bike trails. Though I’ve enjoyed a few walks along the Katy Trail with my wife, I would likely agree.
DNR is going to build out a 47.5-mile section of the Rock Island Trail to start. The first 47.5 miles will cost the state $15.5 million. If you were wondering, that is $326,315.79 per mile.
The entire cost and length of the project are completely unknown, according to Steph Diedrich of the Missouri State Parks. I suppose we’ll worry about the full cost when we’re finished.
The fact that Missouri is building a new bike trail isn’t what really bothers me at the moment. We know they won’t stop building bike trails until every Missourian crosses one walking out their front door. We’re never told of an endpoint or a goal. Bureaucrats will likely continue building bike trails until you cross two walking out the front door of your home.
My apologies to you if I unwittingly gave DNR a new idea.
My problem with the Rock Island Trail announcement is the priority.
The Missouri Department of Transportation (MODOT) played the part of Chicken Little earlier this year when they feared they might have a shortfall of $160 million in their $2.1 billion budget.
Whether MODOT needs the $160 million is still up for debate.
But what if they actually did?
What if, without the $160 million, every road in Missouri would fail and every bridge would fall into the river that bridge helps us cross?
If that were true, why would we even think of using $15 million (up to an unknown amount) to build a new bike trail?
The Missouri Department of Conservation receives tax dollars via a dedicated 1/8th-cent sales tax. The sales tax was only meant to collect $25 million each year when it passed in 1976. Forty years and $2.5 billion later, Conservation is bringing in roughly $175 million each year.
If we give the $25 million originally planned to Conservation and pair the remaining $150 million with the $15 million for a bike trail, MODOT would have more than enough to cover the shortfall that has yet to occur.
The reply from any legislator or bureaucrat reading this will be, those are dedicated funds and we cannot touch them.
And they are right.
Which brings us back to our priorities.
Why can’t MODOT use all of its $2.1 billion annual budget to maintain our roads?
Why can’t we wait on a bike trail and instead fix potholes?
If Missouri’s deer and turkey are safe, why can’t we move some of those funds to repair falling bridges?
The easy fix to our transportation problem, or any problem government faces, is to ask for more taxes.
I propose there are far deeper conversations that need to take place – like why does the legislature only control $8 billion of the state’s $26 billion budget.
The Missouri General Assembly’s only constitutional duty in Jefferson City is to draft and pass a budget for our state. Legislators are closer to the people and it is their responsibility to appropriate tax dollars. Yet, they control less than half of the budget.
Missourians overwhelmingly opposed a sales tax increase for MODOT. Before we decide to collect more taxes from the people, maybe we should instead tackle the problem of our legislature not having the capability of actually prioritizing our budget.
We have to make difficult decisions in our personal budgets. You may have a small leak in your basement and have to sit downstairs with a shop vac when it rains. You might be saving and budgeting to have it fixed. But if your transmission goes out in your car, removing your only means of transportation to get to work and earn the money you need, your priorities, and your budget, will quickly reflect that.
You wouldn’t go running to your employer and ask for a raise simply because you could not balance your budget. Similarly, the Missouri General Assembly shouldn’t run to taxpayers because they can’t control their own purse strings.
The State of Missouri receives plenty of money. The question isn’t do we need more but how do we appropriately control and spend what we already have?