Year in Brief: Transportation projects garner support, encounter obstacles

Transportation infrastructure projects, including Kansas City’s airport, the state’s roads and bridges and a private company’s futuristic, tube-based transit system, captured the attention of Missouri’s elected officials, businesses and travelers in 2017. But heading into 2018, the path forward is uncertain for a number of those high-profile projects.

The Year in Brief looks at the business stories that were most important to Missouri in 2017, and that will continue to shape the state in 2018 and beyond.

After years of work by parties interested in overhauling Kansas City International Airport, city officials finally put the renovation to a public vote. A plan to replace KCI’s current three-terminal system with a single terminal, at a cost of about $1 billion, appeared on the city’s November ballot. A resounding 75 percent of voters green-lit the project.

However, that didn’t end the drama surrounding KCI.

Before the election, the Kansas City Council had selected Edgemoor Infrastructure and Real Estate, a Maryland-based firm, as the project’s developer. Edgemoor won out over a group of bidders that included Kansas City-based Burns & McDonnell, which in May had been the first firm to propose a privately financed, single-terminal plan.

But for Edgemoor, mid-December brought problems: A majority of the Kansas City Council rejected a proposed agreement with the firm, citing concerns about vague terms. A week later, the council voted to reopen negotiations with Edgemoor. But if the city and the developer cannot come to an agreement, Kansas City may instead select AECOM, initially the runner-up to Edgemoor, to redevelop the airport.

Meanwhile, some in Missouri harbored hopes of the state attracting a high-speed transit system built by Hyperloop One, a California-based transportation company. Hyperloop One initially left Missouri off its list of finalists to get a route, but the state’s hopes were later revived.

As the year ended, a task force continued to express hope of Missouri landing the project, which the company says would shuttle passengers across the state in about 25 minutes. A decision is expected from Hyperloop One in late 2018 or early 2019.

Plans for new and improved transportation infrastructure come against the backdrop of the state’s continued difficulties finding funds to maintain existing roads and bridges.

Missouri has the seventh-largest highway system in the U.S., but the state has one of the lowest fuel taxes in the country — 17 cents per gallon, a rate that has not increased since 1996. A plan to renovate Missouri’s stretch of Interstate 70 alone is estimated to cost between $2 billion and $4 billion.

Still, some lawmakers and others have opposed suggested mechanisms for raising funds for the state’s roadways. In April, the House struck down a 6-cents-per-gallon gas tax increase as a way to fund road improvements. A group called A Better Way has successfully lobbied the legislature to ban tolls on I-70.

Gov. Eric Greitens in June put together a task force of legislators and state officials to develop ideas for repairing state roads and bridges and funding new projects. The task force in December proposed hikes to the state’s gas and diesel taxes, which would raise about $430 million a year for infrastructure.

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