Lawmaker wants to add tolls to I-70 in Missouri

| 12/4/2009

A Missouri state lawmaker has once again renewed his effort to eliminate a couple of barriers prohibiting toll roads and bridges in the state.

Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee’s Summit, filed legislation this week that would enable 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. This is the sixth, and will be the final, time that Bartle has offered legislation to bring tolls to the state. He is term-limited and cannot run for re-election in the fall.

Each of the previous efforts failed to make it out of committee.

The bill calls for truckers and other drivers to pay $5 to drive the length of the highway in the state.

Owner-operator and OOIDA Senior Member Charles Beamer of Stoutsville, MO, said while the $5 fee might sound reasonable he doubts it would stay that amount for very long.

“I-70 is the main route. You have no other choice. Once they have the tolls, the rate will go up quick,” Beamer told Land Line.

As a result, he said Missouri would soon see a lot of travelers completely avoiding the state.

Adding tolls to I-70 is contingent upon the approval of an amendment to the Missouri Constitution. With that in mind, Bartle also introduced a joint resolution to amend the state constitution to grant the highway commission the necessary authority.

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.

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 of Kansas City and St. Louis.

Truck driver and OOIDA Life Member Bianca Weathers of West Plains, MO, said she is fed up with lawmakers who come looking for more money. She said states such as Missouri need to stop dipping into transportation funds to pay for other programs before they ask for anymore of her hard-earned money.

“I wouldn’t be willing to pay more. They need to get their act together and use the money as it’s intended. Quit pulling out money for other projects,” Weathers told Land Line.
Beamer shared the same reaction.

“I’ll agree I-70 needs something done with it, but if the state would spend their money a little more wisely I believe we’d have more money for roads,” he said.

Beamer also said that with the thousands of dollars that Missouri truckers fork over each year in taxes it should be quite a boon for the state’s transportation system.

“I think the money’s there if it was spent wisely.”

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 asked for tolling authority the past few years, but lawmakers have refused to let it advance to the ballot.

Bartle’s legislation – SB585 and SJR19 – are awaiting assignment to committee for consideration during the session that begins Jan. 6.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Missouri in 2009, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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