Missouri lawmakers begin I-70 toll talk

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 1/18/2012

A Missouri legislative panel met this week to discuss a push to charge tolls on Interstate 70.

OOIDA officials say truckers already pay taxes and other user fees to access freeways. As a result, charging tolls on existing roads would amount to an additional tax.

Missouri Department of Transportation Director Kevin Keith told a special transportation panel Tuesday, Jan. 17, the state needs a long-term plan to pay for improvements to the mostly rural stretch of roadway linking Kansas City and St. Louis. He said tolls would foot the bill.

Keith said the 250-mile roadway is worn out and is struggling to handle the capacity of cars and trucks. He estimated the cost to rebuild I-70 from the Interstate 470 interchange near Kansas City to the U.S. 40 interchange near Wentzville would range from about $1.5 billion to $4 billion.

There is no firm proposal being offered on what the new roadway would look like. Keith said ideas range from adding one lane in each direction to adding lanes and replacing interchanges, and adding two lanes each way that are designated for trucks.

The time frame provided to get all the work done is six to eight years. Keith said it would require the state partnering with the private sector. To get the ball rolling, MODOT has called on state lawmakers to authorize tolls.

Otherwise, he said the state would only be able to do work as funds become available. Keith estimated other funding options would include a 10-cent-per-gallon fuel tax increase for the next 10 years.

OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer provided testimony for the Joint Committee on Transportation Oversight. He said the best way for Missouri, and every other state, to maintain and upgrade roads is through their fuel tax.

“Having said that, increasing fuel taxes will not pass muster with the public unless you also provide assurances that the money will go for roads and bridges,” Spencer told Land Line.

Keith told lawmakers the average motorist would pay between $20 and $30 to drive the length of the tolled segment. Truck drivers could pay as much as $90.

Addressing MODOT’s assertion that tolls would remain reasonable to keep travelers, Spencer told lawmakers the claim might seem logical, but the rest of the story is that private groups would require the state to enter into non-compete clauses.

“Much like we have seen on the Indiana Toll Road, the clauses are basically designed to force traffic to use the road,” Spencer said. “The only real assurance is the tolls will always go up.”

So far no lawmaker has introduced a toll bill. Nevertheless, OOIDA encourages Missouri truckers to communicate with their lawmakers about this issue.

Spencer said lawmakers need to realize that public-private partnerships are not found money.

“It is simply inserting a regressive form of taxation into the equation that would create a tremendous economic burden primarily on small-business truckers. This will not resolve any transportation funding problems.”

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