A plan to separate cars and heavy trucks on a 200-mile stretch of Interstate 70 in Missouri is gaining in popularity among highway user groups, officials said, but the project will be hung up as long as there is no funding.
Bob Brendel, outreach program coordinator for the Missouri Department of Transportation, shared the latest information with officials from Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association on Wednesday, Nov. 12.
He said the project would take decades to pan out if MoDOT used traditional funding methods.
“Some alternate funding scheme is going to have to emerge,” Brendel said.
One funding option would be for state lawmakers to increase the per-gallon fuel tax rate on diesel from its rate of 17.55 cents per gallon. Another option would be to increase state sales taxes by 1 or 2 percent. Other alternatives include tolling and public-private partnerships.
“Tolling is a possibility, but that decision is going to be made by somebody else,” Brendel said.
OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said if tolls were implemented, MoDOT could reasonably expect truckers to take to alternate east-west routes such as U.S. 36 or U.S. 50.
“We believe the fairest and most efficient way to pay for improvements has historically been the fuel tax, and we’re going to continue to believe that through at least the next highway bill cycle,” Spencer said, referring to the next transportation reauthorization bill due in Congress in 2009.
Brendel and HNTB Project Manager Gretchen Ivy shared what they believe to be the most feasible configuration for truck-only lanes. It begins with the construction of two additional lanes in each direction between Kansas City and St. Louis. Trucks would be required to travel in the two interior lanes in each direction, and passenger vehicles would use the two outside lanes in each direction.
Trucks entering or exiting the highway would be permitted to travel in the outside lanes for short periods, Brendel said.
MoDOT hopes that the federal government will approve environmental documents in early 2009. MoDOT officials will then have public hearings to share the findings and to collect another round of public input. Transportation officials held a round of hearings in April in advance of the environmental review.
Tom Weakley, director of the OOIDA Foundation, said truckers are not opposed to a project that separates commercial and passenger vehicles, but there is always concern about funding and who would pay the lion’s share.
“I like the concept they’ve come up with,” he said. “Funding this is a problem, and it’s always been the problem.”
– By David Tanner, staff writer