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Interstate 70 Toll Road
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This Discussion Guide is part of Community Conversations at FOCUS St. Louis.  It is meant to initiate civil discourse around the policies that affect the St. Louis region; to hear each other’s perspective. As is the case with all public policies, this issue is complex and multi-faceted, with many stakeholders. Please keep this in mind as you discuss Interstate 70 in your community. 

Interstate 70 Toll Road

 

The highway and bridges across the middle of the state are showing signs of wear and tear. They were designed to last about 25 years and were built approximately 60 years ago. The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) spends $70 million to $90 million per year on repairs and maintenance for Interstate 70 (I-70). A major renovation of I-70 is needed, and MoDOT has estimated such a project to cost $1.5 billion to $4 billion.


One mechanism to raise money for a major renovation of I-70 is to convert the highway into a toll road. The project would be financed through a private public partnership, under which a private company would rebuild and operate the highway. Tolls collected on the highway create a revenue stream which could then be used to back a bond issue, which is then used to finance the construction. Tolls would also be used by the private company to operate and maintain the highway.


In the 2012 session of the Missouri General Assembly, State Senator Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City introduced a public-private partnership bill that would turn I-70 into a toll road whose operator could "use any method for collecting and enforcing user fees.” The bill did not pass, but legislators plan to hold hearings around the state to determine public support for this idea or for other ways to finance highway improvements. 


Background:


Missouri first envisioned electronic toll collections in 2001 as part of an environmental study of rebuilding I-70. Tolls already exist in Missouri; there's a toll bridge at the Lake of the Ozarks. Most of the state's river crossings used to have tolls, and tolls have been pitched to the Legislature at times during the past decade, although none of these proposals gained traction.


To rebuild I-70, MoDOT Director Keith has estimated that other funding options would require a 15-cent increase to Missouri's fuel tax for the next decade or an extra half-cent sales tax for the next 10 years. He added that the gas tax is not as reliable a money source as tolls because tax revenue goes down as vehicle fuel efficiency goes up.


As well, there are different levels of renovation that could be implemented, and which strongly determine the total cost of the project: 


  • Replacing the pavement only, adding a third lane in each direction, and dividing the highway with a concrete median. The cost would be $2 billion.
  • Replacing the pavement, adding a third lane in each direction, and replacing all of the interchanges. It would have a 100-to 150-foot wide median for future expansion or other transportation uses. It would cost $3 billion.
  • Rebuilding the highway with four lanes in each direction. Two of the lanes would be dedicated to large trucks only and the other two separated lanes would be for cars. The cost would be $4 billion.


The project would create 6,000 to 12,000 jobs a year over the six to eight years it would take to rebuild the highway and the average wage would be $34,000 a year.


Opponents of instituting tolls to rebuild I-70 say the concept should go to a public vote. Missouri transportation officials and others contend that under the narrow circumstances of forming a public-private partnership to rebuild I-70, a public vote does not appear to be required. Opponents also add that tolls amounts to double taxation, because fuel taxes are also supposed to pay for highways. Convenience store owners along I-70 in Missouri also worry drivers will avoid their businesses if the electronic toll plazas are located near their exits. Statistics show a bloc of drivers – at least 10 percent – will divert to free highways to avoid a toll road, and that would harm businesses in those areas.


The Show-Me Institute believes that I-70 in Missouri is one road where a toll is appropriate: tolls serve as a "user fee” in which people who use a public asset more intensively pay higher fees for that asset. As well, with the recent technological improvements to tolling, fees can be efficiently collected without the long lines at toll plazas that many associate with toll. The majority of the new toll transactions will occur electronically and, for many drivers, there will be no need to stop with any new system implemented in Missouri. This technology can also be used to ensure that the imposition of a toll would not disproportionately harm those who live along the highway. Missourians who live along I-70 and use it for routine daily travel could receive discounted toll rates, a credit on gas taxes paid, or other creative solutions that may be in the public interest. 


Who else is involved with this issue?


The Missouri Department of Transportation is the predominant player in this issue. The Truck Drivers’ Lobby has come out opposed to the toll road while the Show-Me Institute favors this free-market solution.

 

Three Possible Perspectives:


Person A believes Interstate 70 should be renovated using a public private partnership, and that the highway should become a toll road.


Person B is opposed to I-70 being converted to a toll road. MoDOT should be responsible for maintaining the highway using other revenue streams, such as gas taxes or appropriations from the general revenue of the State.


Person C believes that other avenues should be explored to repair and maintain I-70, possible via increased fuel taxes or some other form of user taxation.


Discussion Questions:

  1. Which of the three people in this scenario do you most closely align with A, B, or C? Why?
  2. Are increased fuel taxes a feasible alternative to toll roads?
  3. Is the "pay-as-you-go” method an alternative, fixing parts of the road as needed instead of totally rebuilding the highway?

Links for further reading:


  1. The Missouri Department of Transportation website
  2. Missouri Senate Bill 752, sponsored by Senator Mike Kehoe.
  3. November 11, 2011 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article: Tolls pressed as cure for what ails I-70.
  4. December 4, 2011 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article: Nixon says I-70 toll road will not happen soon.
  5. December 13, 2011 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article: Driving I-70 taking a toll.
  6. January 18, 2012 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article: Missouri gets glimpse of I-70 as toll road.
  7. February 13, 2012 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article: Under proposal for I-70 tolls in Missouri, payments would be cashless.
  8. November 3, 2011 St. Louis Beacon article: State transportation officials plan to propose tolls to pay for new I-70.
  9. Show-Me Institute testimony January 19, 2012 before the Missouri Legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation Oversight.

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