February 22, 2012 – It is no surprise to Missouri’s transportation community that transportation funding in Missouri is cause for concern. Throughout the past six years, former MoDOT Director Pete Rahn, then-Chief Engineer/Current MoDOT Director Kevin Keith, Senator Bill Stouffer and others traveled the state with the Missouri Transportation Development Council (MTD) to educate Missourians on the need to invest in Missouri’s transportation infrastructure since tax dollars are no longer able to support and maintain existing infrastructure. The MTD continues to participate in these discussions.
Wednesday morning, the Senate Transportation Committee held its first hearing on Senate Bill 752. The legislation, filed by Senator Mike Kehoe, would allow the Missouri Highway and Transportation Commission to bid out – through a Public-Private Partnership – the conversion of 200 miles of I-70 into a toll road. While toll roads are not too popular – and Sen. Kehoe acknowledges this – he stated, “Although not popular, this option is viable.”
Last year, MTD surveyed its membership and found that the idea of toll roads did not fair well with our members. Although the organization’s board has not voted on an official position, this is what we found:
40% would support a toll-road system;
89% would support a one-cent general sales tax ($750 million estimated revenue); and,
67% agreed that multiple revenue generators would be needed.
Director Keith opened the testimony discussing the possibility of bidding out the “open toll system” (using electronic means to collect revenue). He openly stated, “This does not solve the transportation needs of Missouri.” But, it does give Missouri options:
$2 billion – Rebuild I-70 using current medians to expand to three lanes both ways;
$3 billion – Buy additional rights-of-way and expand to three lanes both ways, with future opportunity to expand;
$4 billion – Expand I-70 to four lanes both directions (two car/two truck).
Currently, Missouri ranks 7th in the nation for the size of its infrastructure. By contrast, Missouri is 42nd in the nation for the amount of revenue raised per mile. Keith continues, “The option of doing nothing is not real for us. We need to be concerned.”
If MoDOT were to move forward with the project, it is estimated that Missouri would create 6,000-10,000 jobs in the 6-8 years of construction. MoDOT has done a great job with its current resources and is considered the most trusted state department in Missouri, according to recent polling (80% of Missourians trust what MoDOT says it will do). That said, MTD has not determined if the toll system proposal is the best solution to solve the growing need.
Tom Crawford of the Missouri Trucking Association spoke first in opposition. He argued, “The fact that Missouri can push this without a vote of the people is fundamentally, politically, and legally wrong.” He went on to state that the Trucking Association does want to improve I-70, but not with a toll system. The Association has gone on the record in support of a fuel and diesel tax increase, as well as a general sales tax increase. Other concerns raised by Mr. Crawford stretched from constitutionality issues and interstate commerce to the diversion of LTL (“less than load”) freight to other Missouri non-toll roads.
The second group to oppose the measure was Missouri’s Petroleum Marketers Association. Ron Leone, the organization’s Executive Director, stated that the organization is very much in support of improving Missouri’s I-70 system, but they feel a toll road is the wrong way to do it. The Petroleum Marketers Association also supported a state general sales tax increase. Leone continued that his members had concerns with the diversion of their potential customers to the non-toll roads.