Gov. Parson calls for $860M to widen I-70

Published: Jan. 18, 2023 at 4:20 PM CST
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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Gov. Mike Parson called on state lawmakers to set aside nearly $860 million to widen and improve traffic flow on Interstate 70 in his annual State of the State address Wednesday.

The massive investment in I-70 is part of a nearly $52 billion budget proposal unveiled by the Republican. The rough plan for I-70 includes widening the highway in suburban Kansas City, the Columbia area and suburban St. Louis near Wentzville, where the road is notorious for congestion.

The hope is also to get rid of a tangle of traffic lights at the intersection of I-70 and U.S. 63 in Columbia, Missouri Transportation Department Director Patrick McKenna told reporters before Parson’s address. He said the traffic lights could be replaced with ramps to make switching highways smoother.

“Not only are we concerned for motorist safety, these inefficiencies are costly to our state’s economy,” Parson said in prewritten remarks provided to reporters before his speech. “We must invest to improve I-70. To those who say we can’t afford it, I say we can’t afford not to.”

Proposals have existed for years to widen I-70 from two to three lanes in each direction across the entire state, but Missouri has never had the money to do it.

Parson’s plan would tap into the state’s historic budget surplus to accomplish a portion of that. It would widen over 50 total miles of roadway in suburban St. Louis, suburban Kansas City and Columbia while also improving a bottleneck interchange at I-70 and U.S. 63. That would still leave around 140 miles or rural I-70 with two lanes in each direction.

By focusing on the most congested areas, the proposal would create “a much more reliable I-70 for the next couple of decades,” McKenna said.

But it could take a few years for construction to begin, because the state first may need to obtain additional land, relocate utilities and design the road, McKenna said.

In response to a deadly Amtrak train crash in northern Missouri last year, Parson budgeted $35 million for safety upgrades to railroad crossings across the state. Four people died and dozens more were injured when the Amtrak train collided with a pickup truck near Mendon, Missouri, last June.

“We learned the hard way that we must do more to improve transportation safety,” Parson said in prepared statements.

Though Parson did not propose a mandatory pay raise for teachers, his budget would nearly double the money available for a program that helps local school districts provide extra pay to teachers who take on additional responsibilities. Parson proposed to add nearly $32 million to the program’s current $37 million budget.

The governor also proposed hundreds of millions of additional dollars to fully fund the state’s public school system and continue paying the full bill for school busing.

Higher education institutions would get a 7% funding increase under Parson’s budget plan and an additional $272 million for building projects.

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Associated Press writer David A. Lieb contributed to this report.