ST. LOUIS -- The Bush administration is pushing a new approach toward funding transportation projects, one that Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said will make it easier to improve the nation's highways, including Interstate 70 in Missouri.
Peters spoke Tuesday from the roof of a parking garage at Express Scripts that overlooks I-70 in northwest St. Louis County. She said the new plan seeks to eliminate earmarks for transportation projects and focus strictly on those with the greatest needs -- that is, those that stand up to a benefit-cost analysis.
Peters said that means less highway money for lighthouses or covered bridges, but more for upgrades of busy roadways like I-70. She did not spell out specific plans for the interstate but said one thing being looked at is the possibility of truck-only lanes.
"Under our approach, communities will no longer have to slice and dice every federal dollar to qualify for niche programs that do little to improve their communities or commutes," Peters said. "Instead, projects that make sense for commuters get funded, while projects designed only to help politicians won't."
St. Louis is in the midst of a massive rebuild of one major interstate, I-64. A four-mile stretch of roadway is closed all of this year and another four-mile stretch closes for all of 2009.
Concerns have long been raised about the quality of I-70 in Missouri and the fact that the interstate carries so many big trucks. Tom Blair, the Missouri Department of Transportation's assistant engineer for the St. Louis district, said the state is looking at the feasibility of truck-only lanes from Kansas City to St. Louis. Some neighboring states are also considering the same idea.
Peters said development of truck-only lanes would likely be years away, even if officials determine the idea has merit. She said that decision will likely be made within the next couple of years.
St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley, a Democrat, said he liked the idea of the federal government focusing on the neediest projects. He noted the importance of I-70 to the St. Louis area as it connects to I-170, I-270 and I-55 and provides access to MetroLink light rail stations and Lambert Airport.
"Let's put emphasis on these projects that really need to be funded," Dooley said.
The Transportation Department reform plan is available at www.fightgridlocknow.gov.