A Missouri House panel has approved a bill that would allow
tolls on a proposed Interstate 70 bridge across the Mississippi River between Illinois and Missouri.
The House Transportation Committee unanimously endorsed the
bill – HB1380 – that would allow Missouri to partner with private business to
pay for, build and operate a new $910 million bridge in St. Louis that would
carry Interstate 70 traffic over the river.
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.
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.
Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator
Independent Drivers Association, warned the effort could lead to wider pursuit
in the state of private partnerships.
“This is nothing more than a back door way of putting the
state’s highways up for sale to the highest bidder,” Spencer said. “Lawmakers
shouldn’t do that. And they especially shouldn’t do that without a vote of
The bill’s next stop is the full House. A similar effort in
the Senate, SB938, is awaiting consideration before the full Senate.
– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor