Tolling sought once again for I-70 in Missouri

| 12/15/2006

A Missouri state lawmaker has renewed his effort to eliminate a couple of barriers prohibiting toll roads and bridges in the state.

Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee's Summit, has filed a bill - SB26 - that would enable the state's Highways and Transportation Commission to fund, build and operate toll roads and bridges, specifically, on Interstate 70 between Kansas City and St. Louis. This is the third year in a row that Bartle has pursued tolling legislation.

All travelers would pay $5 to drive the length of the highway in the state.

It is contingent upon the approval of an amendment to the Missouri Constitution. With that in mind, Bartle also introduced a joint resolution - SJR1 - to amend the state constitution to grant the highway commission the authority needed.

The state's constitution currently prohibits 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.

Similar efforts have been offered the past few years in Missouri but none have advanced out of committee.

State transportation officials contend tolls might be the best, if not the only, way to fund 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 five years, but lawmakers have refused to let it advance to the ballot.

Bartle's legislation - SB26 and SJR1 - are awaiting assignment to a committee for consideration during the session that begins Jan. 3.

- By Keith Goble, state legislative editor