Effort to toll I-70 in Missouri fails again

| 6/12/2009

An annual legislative effort in the Missouri General Assembly has once again failed to garner support from lawmakers. The legislation would have eliminated a couple of barriers that prohibit toll roads and bridges being built in the state.

The failed initiative 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 Interstate 70 between Kansas City and St. Louis. It marks the fifth consecutive year that the legislation to bring tolls to the state has fallen on deaf ears at the statehouse.

The bill – SB13 – called for truckers and other drivers to pay $5 to drive the length of the highway in the state. It was contingent upon the approval of an amendment to the Missouri Constitution. With that in mind, Bartle also sought a joint resolution – SJR2 – to amend the state constitution to grant the highway commission the authority needed.

Both efforts remained in the Senate Transportation Committee when the regular session ended, effectively killing them for year. The previous attempts also failed to advance from committee.

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 several times since, but lawmakers have refused to let it advance to the ballot.

The issue can be brought back for consideration once the 2010 session opens in January.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Missouri in 2009, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

Editor’s Note: Please share your thoughts with us about the legislation included in this story. Comments may be sent to statelegislativedesk@ooida.com.