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Nixon calls for study on toll roads

Governor Jay Nixon this week asked the Missouri Department of Transportation to analyze the option of collecting tolls to pay for improvements to I-70.

Nixon’s request comes a little more than four months after he came out strongly against the proposed sales tax for transportation, and his wife’s law firm asked a circuit court judge to change the proposal’s ballot language.

The sales tax would have helped finance a $1.5 billion rebuilding of I-70 along with hundreds of other projects. That led some state transportation officials to warn of a potential rise in traffic fatalities and bridge closures if Missouri is unable to pay for needed maintenance.

As recently as a few years ago, Missouri was spending $1.3 billion annually on roads and bridges due to a surge of bond-induced revenues. But contracts are projected to fall to $325 million by 2017 and remain at that level. The department has said it needs to spend at least $485 million annually just to keep roads and bridges in good repair – and that doesn’t account for any major new projects.

“Missouri’s transportation funding is approaching a critical juncture,” Nixon said in a written statement Tuesday. “That is why I am requesting that the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission analyze and provide options for utilizing tolls to address one of our most pressing transportation infrastructure needs – improving and expanding Interstate 70.”

According to AIM president Ray McCarty, the organization has not taken a stance on the issue at this time because it has not been presented as a viable option for voters to consider and, when it has been discussed, the amount of toll necessary would have been exorbitant to produce sufficient money to completely rebuild I-70.  McCarty says no option is completely off the table because the state transportation needs will continue to pile up as we struggle to find ways to fund new highway improvements.

“The Missouri Transportation and Development Council (MTD), the transportation arm of AIM, has been seeking solutions to transportation funding issues for decades.  While toll roads have been considered as a funding option in the past, voters have rejected the idea, as have legislators when we have discussed the idea with them,” said McCarty. “Every funding option (gas tax, toll roads, sales tax, or any combination thereof) requires voter approval. We endorsed the sales tax that was on the ballot in August 2014 and it was overwhelmingly defeated, despite polling that showed it was the option that was most popular with voters.  We are left wondering what voters WILL support.”

The Chairman of MTD, Rod Reid of Shepherd Hills Factory Outlets in Lebanon, MO, and AIM president Ray McCarty are scheduled to meet with MoDOT Director Dave Nichols on December 18th to discuss transportation funding issues.

In the meantime, it is McCarty’s hope that all stakeholders in the transportation puzzle in the state of Missouri can come together around a single plan that all can endorse and that the voting public will support.

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