Missouri truck lanes approved but lack funding

| 9/10/2009

A proposal to separate trucks from cars on I-70 across Missouri remains high on the state’s wish list but low on funding.

The Federal Highway Administration has cleared the project for approval according to a spokeswoman.

But like most states, the Missouri Department of Transportation lacks funding – in this case an estimated $4 billion to construct two additional lanes in each direction from Kansas City to St. Louis.

“Funding is a big issue for us. There’s just not a lot of funding out there to move forward on major projects like this,” MoDOT Spokesman Steve Porter told Land Line.

That doesn’t mean MoDOT intends to give up.

MoDOT Outreach Program Coordinator Bob Brendel said MoDOT is preparing to apply for $200 million in federal stimulus funds to construct a 30-mile demonstration project in Saline and Cooper counties.

“We’d like to demonstrate how well they work and build the momentum for completing the rest of the 200 mile corridor between St. Louis and Kansas City,” Brendel said.

The application for the discretionary grant is due in November. Brendel anticipates a decision in January.

OOIDA member Ken Borgmeyer of Union, MO, who hauls construction equipment, keeps informed on issues, including the truck-lane proposal. More than once, he said, he has given his lawmakers an earful about things he believes are a waste of time money.

“I feel our state is wasting a whole lot of money on silly stuff that they shouldn’t be wasting it on,” Borgmeyer told Land Line on Thursday, Sept. 10.

“Here’s what’s going to happen. They’re going to get a private company in there and build this thing, and it’s going to end up being a toll road. And who’s going to pay for that? The truck drivers. I think it’s a bunch of hooey.”

Representatives from MoDOT and a project engineering firm have visited OOIDA headquarters more than once to discuss truck-only lanes. Cost usually dominates the discussion.

“There are some that see this as an attractive idea, but the biggest stumbling block is that this would be one of the most expensive ways imaginable to expand a highway system,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer told Land Line.

“This would be cost-prohibitive for states,” he said.

Spencer said he hopes truckers would not be asked to foot the entire bill if the project comes to fruition because it will affect all highway traffic. There is also the matter of accountability, he adds.

“Regardless of what method you use to expand the highways, there will never be enough money if the diversion of revenues currently collected isn’t addressed aggressively,” Spencer said.

Should truck-only lanes become a reality, trucks would be restricted to two interior lanes, while passenger vehicles would use the two outside lanes. The configuration could present challenges for trucks to enter and exit the interstate and their designated lanes.

According to MoDOT, trucks entering or exiting would mix with regular traffic in proximity of access points.

The origin of the proposal stems from a joint application for truck-only lanes filed by Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio under the FHWA’s Corridors of the Future program.

To date, only Missouri has proceeded to the environmental review stage. Corridors of the Future are major routes that the federal government ranks high in priority to deal with the movement of people and freight.

Some include a push for tolling. MoDOT currently does not currently have tolling authority.

The FHWA has a handful of pilot programs available to states to obtain tolling authority, but no existing roadway has been approved for tolling. Pennsylvania is one of the most recent states to try, but the FHWA has rejected the Keystone State’s application to toll I-80.

If tolling were to become available to Missouri, Porter said it would free up millions in the MoDOT budget for other road and bridge projects.

The MoDOT official cites the Kansas Turnpike system as sustaining Missouri’s neighbor to the west.

“Having that self-sustaining, and having money coming in from fuel taxes, you’d have funding available for the rest. It’s a matter of paying for what you get.”

Missouri and Georgia are the only states currently pursuing truck-only lanes over long distances. New Jersey, California and Texas have truck lanes in place over short travel distances, according to MoDOT.

Click here to learn more about the truck-only lane proposal.

Brendel says the environmental document that the FHWA recently approved has a shelf life of three to five years. If work doesn’t begin in that time, the state will have to reiterate the points made in the environmental impact statement to keep the project simmering.

Any funding proposal would have to get approval from the Missouri Legislature. For years, the Legislature has remained cold to the idea of tolling.

As for truck-only lanes being cost-effective or cost-prohibitive, MoDOT remains optimistic.

“We want to be able to show that it’s feasible, it has safety benefits and transportation benefits, and that it’s going to answer some questions for us,” said Porter.

“We think it’s cost-effective in the long run. We think it’s a good enough idea that we would like to move forward.”

– By David Tanner, staff writer