Effort to place tolls on planned I-70 bridge advances in Missouri

| Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Missouri Senate Transportation Committee has approved a bill that would allow tolls on a proposed I-70 bridge across the Mississippi River between Illinois and Missouri.

Sponsored by Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, the bill would allow Missouri to partner with private business to pay for, build and operate a new $910 million bridge that would carry Interstate 70 traffic over the river.

The new bridge is expected to relieve traffic jams on the Poplar Street Bridge, which now 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.

Missouri Transportation Director Pete Rahn said the long-delayed bridge project is expensive and has a price tag just under $1 billion, The Associated Press reported. A recently scaled-back design still requires the states to come up with $671 million for the work. Congress has earmarked $239 million for the project.

Officials in Illinois said they have the money for their share, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. They would rather tap “conventional methods” such as state and federal funds – not tolls – to pay for the bridge. But Rahn said tolling seems to be the only way Missouri can come up with its share.

The Missouri Department of Transportation previously has pushed consideration of a proposed amendment to the state’s constitution that would give the department the authority to build and operate toll roads. But the measure has failed to advance from the Legislature, partly because voters historically have not been receptive to tolling proposals.

Authorizing a private partnership, however, would not need to be in the form of a constitutional amendment requiring a statewide vote, The AP reported. The tolls would be up to the private entity to collect.

The bill – SB938 – has moved to the full Senate for further consideration.

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