Missouri bill would add tolls to I-70

| 2/4/2008

A bill in the Missouri Senate would eliminate a couple of barriers prohibiting toll roads and bridges in the state.

Sponsored by Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee’s Summit, the bill 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 fourth consecutive year that Bartle has offered legislation to bring tolls to the state.

The previous efforts failed to make it out of committee. This year’s version is in the Senate Transportation Committee. Lawmakers discussed the bill Jan. 24 but no vote was taken.

The bill – SB793 – calls for truckers and other drivers to pay $5 to drive the length of the highway in the state.

Adding tolls to I-70 is contingent upon the approval of an amendment to the Missouri Constitution. With that in mind, Bartle also introduced a joint resolution – SJR31 – to amend the state constitution to grant the highway commission the necessary authority.

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.

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 of Kansas City and St. Louis.

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 six years, but lawmakers have refused to let it advance to the ballot.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Missouri in 2008, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor