Report: Double-digit tolls could fund I-70 repairs - KMOV.com

Report: Double-digit tolls could fund I-70 repairs

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By Heinz Kluetmeier By Heinz Kluetmeier

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Motorists on Interstate 70 would need to pay $20 to $30 in tolls to travel one way across Missouri to pay for the minimum in needed repairs on the roadway, according to a state Department of Transportation report released Wednesday.

Possible solutions suggested in the report, commissioned in early December by Gov. Jay Nixon, include using tolls to repay public bonds or to recoup expenses in a public-private partnership.

Transportation officials have advised expanding the roadway for the past two decades to prevent congestion, said special projects coordinator Bob Brendel, who helped write the report. If nothing is done, most of traffic will be stop-and-go by 2030 based on traffic growth estimates.

The cheapest option for the work is $2 billion, which the state doesn't have, and greater expansions could cost $3 billion to $4 billion.

Given current traffic patterns, the report says every driver would need to pay between $20-30 for a trip across the state to fully fund just the $2 billion in repairs, while truck drivers would have to pay $40-90. Any lower tolls, and Missouri would have to find another source of funding to support the project.

Nixon recently revived the option to use tolls after voters in August turned down a three-quarter-cent sales tax hike to help fund repairs. The Democrat previously has said highway funding is approaching a "critical juncture," as revenue from gas taxes has fallen because of more fuel-efficient vehicles.

"A strong, safe and reliable transportation infrastructure is critical to our ability to create jobs and grow our economy," Nixon said in a written statement Wednesday, adding that he hadn't fully reviewed the report.

He also said tolls could free up resources currently spent on I-70 to improve other bridges and roadways across the state.

Roads on the 200-mile stretch of I-70 from Wentzville to Independence are almost 50 years or older. Some sections now carry more than five times the number of vehicles intended for the roadway when it first was built.

Brendel said the state would need to find a way to front the cost of rebuilding before tolls can be put in place. That money could come from federal government loans or from working with the private sector, which could pay for rebuilding and take on the responsibility of future maintenance.

But proposals for public-private partnerships have received a lukewarm response from lawmakers in the past.

The Legislature took no action on a 2012 suggestion from the Transportation Department to work with the private sector and later recoup the money spent through tolling. It's unclear whether there will be any greater interest in toll roads when a new group of lawmakers convenes in January for their annual session.

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