Bond - State may have to consider road tolls to pay for repairs

Thursday, May 29, 2003

KIRKWOOD, Mo. -- Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., on Wednesday said Missouri and other states might have to consider toll roads to help pay for overhauling the aging interstate highway system.

He said the need for road repair and construction outstrips federal resources.

"You can't just depend on federal dollars," Bond said during a visit to this St. Louis suburb.

Bond joined Federal Highway Administration chief Mary Peters in touting the Bush administration's multiyear spending plan for highways and public transit.

He chairs a transportation subcommittee that will help write the multiyear spending bill the Senate will consider. He said the administration plan will serve as a framework, but his subcommittee will change and refine it.

In a telephone interview, Missouri Democratic Party spokesman Mike Kelley said he found Bond's suggestion for toll roads remarkable, in that it recognizes a need for alternative ways for states to raise money. Missouri Republicans oppose Democratic Gov. Bob Holden's plan to generate revenue from taxes on gambling and cigarettes.

Kelley said he hoped Bond would encourage the president to make reforms instead of passing burdens onto the states.

Bond, Peters and Missouri Department of Transportation director Henry Hungerbeeler spoke at a closed question-and-answer session on transportation with area chambers of commerce, businesses and civic groups. They met with reporters afterward.

Two weeks ago, the Bush administration proposed a $247 billion, six-year transportation spending plan to succeed the current one that expires in October. It is 13 percent larger than the previous six-year plan, but far less than what lawmakers say is needed to reduce congestion on highways.

Focus on safety

Safety is a focus, with incentive grants to states that reduce traffic fatalities and enact laws that allow police to stop motorists solely for failing to buckle up. Peters said the plan also allows for creating passing lanes on rural two-lane highways.

Nationally, there are 43,000 traffic deaths each year. Missouri has had 400 already this year; 1,200 in 2002, Peters said. Stress on the nation's highways will worsen when truck traffic more than doubles by the year 2020, she said.

On Tuesday, Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo., was promoting a plan for fixing roads and other modes of travel by issuing up to $50 billion in transportation bonds.

He sees the project, "Build America Bonds," as a way to raise money for cash-strapped states and cities that would be separate from the multiyear federal highway bill.

Peters said the Bush administration elected not to use bonds for raising transportation revenue. "At the end of the day, you have to pay it back," she said. "Pay it back with what?"

Bond said he has not taken a position on his Senate colleague's plan.

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