Legislators Hold First I-70 Toll Road Hearing

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JEFFERSON CITY - The Senate Transportation Committee held its first public hearing Wednesday looking into the possibility of a toll road on I-70. The meeting comes after MoDOT announced it would look into charging tolls to help rebuild the interstate.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, said elected officials need to talk about all the options, even if they aren't popular. "I get a lot of constituent e-mails and contacts on this and I can tell you I agree with them when they say 'we hate tolls,' first thing I say is 'I do too,'" Kehoe said.

Kehoe said toll roads on I-70 would promote lots of economic development for the state.

MoDOT Director Kevin Keith testified during the hearing that Missourians could be driving on a rebuilt I-70 in 6-8 years if paid for in the long-term by a toll road. Keith also said the plan would create between 6,000 and 10,000 jobs during the interstate's reconstruction.

MoDOT estimated the cost of rebuilding I-70 would be between $2 and $4 billion.

Representatives from various trucking groups testified against the proposal during the hearing. They said some trucks would simply avoid I-70 if it were made into a toll road, increasing the number of trucks on other Missouri highways.

MoDOT said it predicts there would be a 10 percent decline in number of vehicles on I-70 if it were made into a toll road. Ron Leone, executive director of the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, said this predicted decrease in traffic worries the association's members. "You can just imagine how my members react when they find out that the director of MoDOT is predicting, and we believe it's on the low side, that 10 percent of our customers will no longer be coming by and spending their money at my member's locations," Leone said.

One of the alternative plans proposed by toll opponents is a diesel fuel tax increase. However, Keith says that plan won't work.

"If you wanted to rebuild interstate 70, it would take a 44 cent increase in the diesel fuel tax for 10 years," Keith said.

Transportation Committee Chairman Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, said during the hearing that he would want to give Missourians a chance to vote on the proposal.

The committee will hold at least one more public hearing at the capitol, scheduled for next week.