Missouri proposals seek toll roads

| 12/12/2005

Legislation prefiled in the Missouri Senate would eliminate a couple of barriers prohibiting toll roads and bridges from being built in the state.

Sponsored by Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee’s Summit, the effort – SB652 – would enable the state’s Highways and Transportation Commission to fund, build and operate toll roads and bridges, specifically, along Interstate 70 between Kansas City and St. Louis.

It is contingent upon the approval of an amendment to the Missouri Constitution. With that in mind, Bartle also prefiled a joint resolution – SJR24 – to amend the state constitution to grant the Highway Commission the authority needed.

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 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.

Bartle filed his tolling proposals Dec. 1. Similar efforts offered by Bartle this past year remained in committee at the close of the session.

Bartle’s latest effort follows an announcement from Missouri House Transportation Chairman Neal St. Onge that he would support a bill next year that could allow tolls on a long-planned Mississippi River bridge at St. Louis.

A Republican from Ellisville, MO, St. Onge said he likes a Missouri Department of Transportation proposal to allow the state to partner with a private group to fund, build and operate a proposed bridge that would connect to I-70 in St. Louis.

The new bridge is expected to relieve traffic on the Poplar Street Bridge, which carries traffic from Interstates 55, 64 and 70. More than 120,000 vehicles cross the bridge daily.

Plans call for building an eight-lane bridge, relocating I-70 in Illinois and constructing an I-70 interchange in Missouri.

State transportation officials contend tolls might be the best, if not the only, way to fund the new bridge and additional lanes on the 250-mile stretch between the two metropolitan areas.

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.

SB652 and SJR24 are awaiting assignment to committees. They will be considered in the legislative session that begins Jan. 5.