Effort to toll I-70 in Missouri fails, again

| 6/19/2007

A legislative effort in the Missouri General Assembly to eliminate a couple of barriers prohibiting toll roads and bridges from being built in the state has died.

The failed initiative by Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee’s Summit, would have enabled the state’s Highways and Transportation Commission to fund, build and operate toll roads and bridges, specifically, on Interstate 70 between Kansas City and St. Louis. It marks the third year in a row that the tolling legislation has failed to gain any backing.

The bill – SB26 – was contingent upon the approval of an amendment to the Missouri Constitution. With that in mind, Bartle also sought a joint resolution – SJR1 – to amend the state constitution to grant the highway commission the authority needed.

Both efforts remained in the Senate Transportation Committee when the session ended, effectively killing them for year.

The state’s constitution currently prohibits the use of state funds to build toll roads. Changing the constitution would require a public vote after legislative approval. Even if approved by voters, there would still be obstacles to overcome.

For state-run roads, there could be legislation on specific projects to make use of the tolling authority. But for interstates, it’s more complex.

Federal law prohibits enacting tolls on interstates that are now toll-free; however, a state can ask the Federal Highway Administration to toll an interstate as a pilot project. Missouri already has been given approval to proceed with existing interstate facilities – such as I-70 – that cannot otherwise be adequately maintained or improved.

State transportation officials contend tolls might be the best, if not the only, way to fund additional lanes on the 250-mile stretch between the two metropolitan areas.

Proponents of toll roads have tried for years to make them an option in Missouri, but voters rejected the concept in 1970 and 1992. That’s as far as highway officials have gotten. They’ve frequently asked for tolling authority, but lawmakers have refused to let it advance to the ballot.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor