A legislative effort in the Missouri General Assembly that
would have eliminated a couple of barriers to toll roads and bridges from being
built in the state has died. Legislators, however, did approve a bill that
would allow a private group to operate a proposed Interstate 70 bridge across
the Mississippi River between Illinois and Missouri.
The failed initiative, SB652, by Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee’s
Summit, would have enabled the state’s Highways and Transportation Commission
to fund, build and operate toll roads and bridges, specifically, on I-70
between Kansas City and St. Louis.
It was contingent upon the approval of an amendment to the
Missouri Constitution. With that in mind, Bartle also sought a joint resolution – SJR24 – to amend the state constitution to grant the highway commission the
Both efforts remained in the Senate Transportation Committee
when the session ended this month, effectively killing them for a year.
The state’s 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. Missouri already has been given approval
to proceed with existing interstate facilities – such as I-70 – that cannot
otherwise be adequately maintained or improved.
The legislature’s decision to let a private group operate
the proposed bridge in St. Louis is a way around the state’s constitutional
requirement for a statewide vote on tolling roads and bridges.
Sponsored by Rep. Neal St. Onge, R-Ellisville, the measure
would allow Missouri to partner with private business – possibly a foreign
group – to pay for, build and operate a new bridge in St. Louis that would
carry I-70 traffic over the river.
Officials in Illinois would need to agree on similar rules
in their state to go through with the project. During the recently completed
regular legislative session in Illinois, lawmakers expressed little or no
interest in tolling the bridge.
– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor