I-70 tolls worth another look for Missouri governor

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 12/12/2014

At the request of Gov. Jay Nixon, Missouri state transportation officials are taking another look at the potential for toll taxes on Interstate 70.

The governor sent a letter to the state transportation commissioner this week asking for the Highways and Transportation Commission to analyze the option to improve and expand the stretch of roadway linking Kansas City and St. Louis.

Nixon said that charging truckers and other drivers toll taxes would allow the state to get needed work done on the 250-mile roadway linking the state’s two major metropolitan areas and “free-up resources for road and bridge projects throughout the state.”

He wants an answer by the end of this month.

The Missouri Department of Transportation has advocated since 2012 the use of toll taxes to foot the bill to address a roadway the agency has labeled as worn out and struggling to handle the capacity of cars and trucks.

The Missouri General Assembly, however, has not allowed the idea to gain traction. Instead, state lawmakers acted earlier this year to put a transportation sales tax question on the statewide ballot.

Voters in August rejected the proposed three-fourth-cent sales tax increase that would have raised $5.4 billion during the next decade for transportation work, including $1.5 billion to help rebuild I-70.

Despite their inability to work out a deal, officials realize something must be done to address the state’s construction budget for roads and bridges, which has fallen from about $1.3 billion annually in 2010 to $685 million this year. Dave Nichols, director of the Missouri Department of Transportation, has said the annual budget is projected to dip to $325 million by 2017 – the lowest since 1992.

Nixon called on the commission to “analyze and provide options for utilizing tolls” as the state’s transportation funding is “approaching a critical juncture.”

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association sent a letter to Gov. Nixon on Friday, Dec. 12, conveying the truckers group’s disappointment that he is pursuing tolls.

OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer pointed out to the governor that Missouri voters “have repeatedly rejected efforts seeking to authorize the state to construct toll roads and bridges.” In addition, the legislature has also rejected the idea and went as far as to introduce legislation that would amend the state’s Constitution to specifically prohibit tolling.

“There remains strong opposition to tolling I-70, so that is simply not an option,” Spencer wrote. “Missouri, like other states, has both significant transportation funding challenges and critical infrastructure needs, and we encourage you to consider realistic solutions.”

OOIDA represents nearly 7,200 professional truckers who reside in Missouri.

Copyright © OOIDA