Lawmakers consider I-70 tolls

Increasing traffic on Interstate 70, a major east-west route through Missouri, needs extensive work, according to the state DOT, which proposed three options for improvements that would require converting the highway to a toll road to pay for the work

Increasing traffic on Interstate 70, a major east-west route through Missouri, needs extensive work, according to the state DOT, which proposed three options for improvements that would require converting the highway to a toll road to pay for the work.

Missouri Dept. of Transportation Director Kevin Keith told a panel of state lawmakers Tuesday that rapidly increasing amounts of traffic could turn Interstate 70 into a “graveled parking lot” within 15 years if the highway is not widened and repaved to make it safer and ease congestion, according to a CBS News report. “(I-70) runs fine as long as we don’t have an accident or work on it,” he said. “But if we do either of those, traffic gets backed up for 10 miles.”

Various plans would allow the state to repave the highway that’s mostly two lanes in each direction, add more lanes, install new medians and even build separate lanes for large trucks. Depending on the improvement plan chosen, the work will cost between $2 and $6 billion and take six to eight years to complete, Keith said.

Financing for the project would come from the private sector that would convert the highway to a toll road to charge drivers using the highway to recoup their investment. Keith told the committee such an arrangement would allow the state to begin work on the Interstate quickly.

Keith said similar projects in other states have tolls of about 10 to 15 cents per mile and large trucks would have to pay two or three times that amount.

Other funding options would require a 15-cent increase to Missouri’s gas tax for the next decade or an extra half-cent sales tax for the next 10 years, Keith said.

Lawmakers raised several concerns with the idea of tolls, saying they could financially hurt the state’s drivers and trucking businesses. It was also predicted tolls could create more congestion on state roads and highways when motorists attempt to avoid the tolls.

Rep. Tim Meadows, D-Imperial, a former truck driver, said trucking companies would make up for the cost of tolls by cutting the number of drivers they hire. The companies might also have drivers pull more trailers or larger trailers on their trucks, potentially creating a safety hazard.

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