Missouri DOT considers adding tolls on I-70

| 10/18/2004

Missouri highway officials are proposing to toll Interstate 70 between Kansas City and St. Louis to raise revenue for badly needed improvements.

Officials are considering tolls as high as $10 one way to cross the state for motorists and $22.50 for truck drivers.

The 250-mile stretch would be dotted by four to six tollbooths between the two metropolitan areas. Money generated from the tolls would be used to rebuild the interstate and expand it to six lanes statewide. I-70 is now four lanes through most of the state.

A more detailed analysis of the proposal is expected by the end of the month.

The job of gaining toll authority won’t be easy. Missouri voters would need to approve any toll plan because it would require a state constitutional amendment. It also would need state legislative approval.

Missouri Department of Transportation officials say a toll might be the best way, if not the only, way to fund adding lanes to the interstate.

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 each of the past three years, but lawmakers have refused to let it advance to the ballot.

In response, MoDOT has tweaked its latest effort to ask for tolling on only one road.

The department is considering an “open toll” system in which travelers would only be required to pay when they go through the booth, and not every time they get on and off the interstate.

“The idea is to get the traffic that’s going all the way across the state,” not the local traffic, Linda Wilson, an agency spokeswoman, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The full report will include estimates on how much money the tolls would generate, locations for the tollbooths and how much traffic likely would move to alternate roads.

The most recent figures, from 2002, showed that about 240,000 vehicles a day traveled between Kansas City and St. Louis. Experts predict that congestion on I-70 will double by 2020, and rebuilding the interstate will cost taxpayers about $3 billion.

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. Congress is considering eliminating the restriction in its transportation-spending bill.

State Sen. John Loudon, R-Ballwin, sponsored a version of the toll bill last year. He told the St. Louis newspaper he’d push for it again once lawmakers reconvene at the Capitol in January.