By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor
Talk about tolling Interstate 70 in Missouri has once again reared its head. Before such action can take place, barriers prohibiting tolls in the state must be addressed.
Officials at the Missouri Department of Transportation want to partner with the private sector to rebuild the roadway stretching from Kansas City to St. Louis. To get the ball rolling, MODOT director Kevin Keith announced Wednesday, Nov. 9, his agency will call on state lawmakers to authorize tolls.
He cited few, if any options, available for much-needed improvements to be made.
The main revenue source for road money is the state’s 17-cent-per-gallon fuel tax, which is among the lowest in the nation. More fuel-efficient vehicles and changing driver habits are also cited for stagnated revenue.
The federal government is also getting some blame. States continue to wait to see if Congress will finally approve a transportation bill.
MODOT spokesman Bob Brendel said Thursday that pursuing a private partnership for the project “is a way to tackle a huge project we don’t have the ability to tackle any other way in our current funding situation.”
There is no firm proposal being offered on what the new roadway would look like. However, Brendel told Land Line ideas range from adding one lane in each direction for all traffic to adding two lanes each way designated for trucks.
He estimated that adding one lane each way could cost $1.5 billion. Adding truck-only lanes into the mix could be as much as $4 billion.
Charging truckers and other drivers to travel most of the 250-mile stretch between the two metropolitan areas is not a new topic at the state capitol. During much of the past decade legislation was introduced on an annual basis to enable the state’s Highways and Transportation Commission to fund, build and operate toll roads and bridges, specifically on I-70.
None of the efforts received serious consideration. The bills called for all road users to pay $5 to drive the length of the highway in the state.
Any fee to travel the roadway would likely be far more expensive with a private group in control. Brendel said it is too early to tell what the tolls would be.
Talk of tolling I-70 has long been a topic at the statehouse. In the early 2000s officials representing Goldman Sachs frequented the capitol to tout the benefits of signing over the state’s asset to private developers.
The privatization model had the full support of the Bush administration. The U.S. DOT encouraged states around the country to pursue such ventures to address road maintenance and construction.
Adding tolls to I-70 would be a three layered venture that requires approval from the Missouri General Assembly, voters and the federal government.
One layer has already been peeled away. 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.
In 2005, Missouri was given authority from the feds to charge tolls on I-70 as long as it is a complete rebuild.
Adding tolls in the Show-Me State still is contingent upon the approval of an amendment to the Missouri Constitution. State lawmakers must pass legislation that would allow voters to decide whether to make the change.
Missouri lawmakers will convene in Jefferson City on Jan. 4, 2012. OOIDA encourages Missouri truckers to contact their state lawmakers about I-70 tolls.
Land Line Associate Editor David Tanner contributed to this report.
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