January 18, 2012
Interstate 70, which runs east and west through the state of Missouri, is in desperate need of improvements. The big question is how the state will afford those improvements. The state Department of Transportation is pushing a plan that would turn I-70 into a toll road.Missouri DOT Director Kevin Keith told a panel of state lawmakers on Tuesday that the rapidly increasing traffic could turn the interstate into a "graveled parking lot" within 15 years if improvements aren't made. The cost for the improvements could be as much as $4 million, and MODOT says turning I-70 into a toll road is the only feasible way to make the improvements in enough time. Missouri already has gotten permission from the federal government to put tolls on the Interstate as part of a federal pilot program.According to Keith, the improvements could be finished in six to eight years, with financing up front from private companies. Those companies would then collect money from tolls to recoup their investments. The arrangement, Keith said, could create as many as 12,000 construction jobs in an area that greatly needs them. The possible toll amounts haven't been decided but would likely cost 10 to 15 cents a mile for cars. Truckers would likely pay two to three times that.I-70 is 60 years old but was only built to last 25. Though the road badly needs improvements, not everyone is convinced tolls are the answer. Democrat Tim Meadows from Imperial, Missouri, a former over-the-road trucker, told OzarksFirst.com that he's worried about what the tolls will do to smaller companies. "The bigger guys will get bigger, and the smaller guys will get stomped out," says Meadows.Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon also disagreed with the idea. "I think just coming in and saying that all the trucks that are carrying all that commerce and all the goods that are coming here, that somehow we're going to make that more expensive, instantaneously," Nixon told Fox2Now in St. Louis. As of now, there has been no legislation filed on the toll road issue.