Effort to toll I-70 in Missouri fails, once again

| 6/25/2008

A legislative effort in the Missouri General Assembly has died. The bill would have eliminated a couple of barriers prohibiting toll roads and bridges from being built in the state.

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 fourth consecutive year that the legislation to bring tolls to the state has failed to gain approval.

The bill – SB793 – called for truckers and other drivers to pay $5 to drive the length of the I-70 in the state. It was contingent upon the approval of an amendment to the Missouri Constitution. With that in mind, Bartle also sought a joint resolution – SJR31 – to amend the state Constitution to grant the Highway Commission the authority needed.

Both efforts remained in the Senate Transportation Committee when the regular session ended, effectively killing them for the 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 for permission to toll an interstate as a pilot project.

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 metropolitan areas of Kansas City and St. Louis.

Proponents of toll roads have tried for years to make them an option in Missouri, but voters rejected the concept in 1970 and 1992. Tolling proponents have also asked for tolling authority each of the past six years, but lawmakers have refused to let the issue advance to a public vote.

The issue can be brought back for consideration once the next session opens in January 2009.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Missouri in 2008, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor