this week in the Missouri Senate would enable the state’s Highways and
Transportation Commission to fund, build and operate toll roads and bridges.
The issue is expected to be a priority during the
legislative session that kicks off Jan. 5.
The initiative, introduced by Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee’s
Summit, is contingent upon the approval of an amendment to the state
The Missouri Constitution currently doesn’t allow 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
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 expected to pass next year.
Bartle filed his tolling proposal – SB31 – Dec. 1, a few
weeks after Missouri highway officials expressed interest to adding tolls to
Interstate 70 between Kansas City and St. Louis.
The Missouri Department of Transportation is looking to
raise revenue for badly needed improvements.
Officials are considering tolls as high as $10 for motorists
and $22.50 for truck drivers to cross the state on I-70. Bartle’s proposal caps
the fee at $5 for all 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.
The interstate is now four lanes through most of the state.
Missouri Department of Transportation officials contend a
toll might be the best, if not the only, way to fund additional lanes on the
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
In response, MoDOT has tweaked its latest effort to ask for
tolling 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.
--Keith Goble, state legislative editor