Missouri Dept. of Transportation director Kevin Keith said that although Missouri voters have twice rejected amendments to permit state toll roads and bridges, a public vote would not be required to establish Interstate 70 as a toll road funded by private sector companies, according to a Kansas City Star report.
“We believe we can do the public-private partnership for I-70, as we outlined it, legally,” Keith said after briefing lawmakers last week. “Now there are a whole bunch of public policy questions that are legitimate for them to talk about.”
MoDOT is proposing to rebuild I-70 between Highway 40-61 near Wentzville and Interstate 470 near Kansas City at a cost between $2 and $4 billion, depending on the scope of the project selected. The state DOT feels making I-70 a toll road is the most viable option for funding needed repairs and upgrades to the highway, Keith said.
Keith has estimated that the cost of driving across Missouri on the toll road would likely be $25 each way for car drivers and $50 to $75 for truck drivers.
The I-70 toll question should go to voters, according to Tom Crawford, president & CEO of the Missouri Trucking Assn. It would be bad public policy to pass a $4 billion “tax increase” in the form of long-term tolls without submitting it to voters, he said.
Crawford also questioned MoDOT’s position that since private partners — not the state — would be the ones collecting the tolls, no public referendum is necessary. “From my perspective, any analysis of case law, that’s a distinction without a difference,” Crawford said.
AAA Missouri representatives also questioned the plan to avoid a public vote on the issue.
“I haven’t reviewed the legal aspects of it, but I think it would be a major mistake not to take it to the electorate,” AAA’s Mike Right said. “We are talking about a substantial toll that is going to affect a lot of folks.”
There is little public appetite for tolls, Right added, pointing out that when a constitutional amendment to allow toll roads went to voters in 1992, it was defeated in all but one county.
Toll roads are not unprecedented on Interstate highways, however they were all toll roads before they were Interstates. The U.S. Dept of Transportation has given only three states the authority to put tolls on Interstates.
Missouri and Virginia are also pursuing efforts to convert existing interstates into toll roads.