Legislators Say I-70 Toll Plan in 2012 Unlikely
COLUMBIA - After two legislators sparked a state-wide conversation over a possible toll road on I-70, debate followed on the possible consequences of the plan.
"Mike [Kehoe] and I said 'Let's file that legislation for the sole purpose of starting a very loud conversation around the state," St. Louis County Senator John Lamping said.
The legislation would allow the state to enter into a contract with a private company to spend more than $2 billion to restore I-70.
"We're not looking to make money off the corridor," MoDOT chief engineer Dave Nichols said. "We're looking for an opportynity to rebuild the corridor, relieve the congestion and keep the toll roads as low as possible."
Similar projects in other states caused traffic to divert to smaller highways, increasing the likelihood of accidents. Nichols says Missouri's alternate routs could handle the extra traffic.
"Route 36 has a lot of growth for traffic and we think it could be done very safely. So there are a lot of corridors that do have capacity to absorb some traffic from I-70," Nichols said.
Indiana has faced rising toll costs as a result of a similar public-private contract.
"If we used our own capital we could insist on lower tolls," Sen. Lamping said. "What I've already learned is that the legislation we filed, I'm not for having it passed because I'm not for using someone else's capital. I'm for using our own capital."
Other project funding options include raising taxes, which Columbia Democrat Chris Kelly would support over the toll road.
"For a nickel on gas we could do about a billion dollars worth of highway work," Kelly said.
But Nichols says tax hikes don't sit well with the public.
"There isn't much of an appetite for right now for an increase in gasoline taxes and diesel taxes on fuel," Nichols said.
Lamping agrees the debate over the I-70 project is far from resolved.
"The likelihood of this actually happening in 2012 is very slim," Sen. Lamping said.