The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) is responsible for 32,000 miles of state owned and maintained highways across our state. Missouri's population ranks 18th in the nation, yet our state highway system has the seventh most miles.
One of the major roads MoDOT maintains is Interstate 70, 251 miles of highway that cuts Missouri in half, running east and west and connecting St. Louis and Kansas City, two of the state's major metropolitan areas. The highway is used daily by tens of thousands of people, from morning commuters to over-the-road truck drivers. I-70 is a major artery, critical to the flow of transportation in and through our state.
The Department spends between $75 million to $90 million a year on average to maintain I-70. Because of this, MoDOT says much of the interstate needs to be rebuilt, and suggests 3 options costing $2 billion to $6 billion to complete. Yet with such a vast highway system MoDOT has to maintain, the money to pay for such a project is currently not available.
This has led to different proposals to pay for the project; from raising the gasoline tax to reducing the number of highways the state is responsible for to implementing tolls on the interstate. One proposal making news and being debated in Jefferson City is Senate Bill 752, sponsored by Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City. Passage of this bill would authorize the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission to form a public-private partnership with private companies to finance, develop, and operate I-70 as a toll facility. Basically, private companies would front the money to pay for the project, and then recoup the funds through collecting tolls for a certain period of time following the construction.
Once completed, tolls are estimated to cost 10 to 15 cents per mile for a car, and up to three times that for a truck. Using the lowest amount, an average citizen would pay at least $25 to travel from St. Louis to Kansas City.
Proponents of tolls say they would place the cost of paying for these repairs on the people who actually use the interstate. Those who don't use I-70 wouldn't be paying for the project. This would prevent, as some have already suggested doing, raising the gasoline tax on everyone in the state to pay for repairs or rebuilding of I-70. They also say by implementing tolls, the overhaul of I-70 would be faster, taking approximately six to seven years.
However, even if you don't use the highway, you're still affected by the toll. Opponents say making I-70 a toll road could severely hurt the trucking business, a large catalyst to Missouri's economy. The proposed tolls could be high enough many companies would be unable to simply eat the increased transportation costs, possibly forcing them to cut back on doing business in the state. Or, the trucks might divert to secondary highways without tolls, putting more strain on roads not built to handle that level of traffic and decreasing safety.
Either way, Gov. Nixon believes you should have a direct say in such a drastic change to our transportation system, and I agree. He recently said I-70 tolls should require voter-approval and should not be done simply through legislation in Jefferson City. There are many complexities to this issue and your opinion is very important to me. What do you think? Should we use tolls on I-70? I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
As always, I appreciate hearing your comments, opinions, and concerns. Please feel free to contact me in Jefferson City at (573) 751-2459. You may write to me at Jason Crowell; Missouri Senate; State Capitol; Jefferson City, MO 65101, or email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit me on the web at http://www.senate.mo.gov/crowell.