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Gov. Nixon wants voters to weigh in on I-70 tolls

Thursday, February 9, 2012 | 6:59 p.m. CST; updated 4:34 p.m. CST, Monday, February 13, 2012

*CORRECTION: The initial version of this article misstated the language in a revised version of the bill. Under a revised version of the bill, toll roads would not be banned, but they would also not be authorized.

COLUMBIA — Efforts to make Interstate 70 a toll road appear to be stalling in traffic.

Gov. Jay Nixon wants voters to weigh in before any tolling could begin on Interstate 70, The Associated Press reported Thursday.

"If we're going to have those, the people of the state of Missouri need to vote on them," he told members of the press during an annual Capitol media event. 

State Transportation Director Kevin Keith has said increasing amounts of traffic on I-70 requires work to add lanes and repave the road. He said accidents and construction can force traffic to back up for miles.

The Missouri Department of Transportation offered three options for the highway that range in cost from $2 billion to $6 billion. Improvements could include adding an additional lane, installing new medians or building lanes dedicated for trucks.

Keith said other alternatives to toll roads would be tax increases throughout the next ten years. A 15 cent increase in Missouri's motor fuels tax or an extra half-cent sales tax have been proposed.

Critics say tolling would be a detriment to Missouri drivers and the trucking industry.

Tom Crawford, president of the Missouri Trucking Association, said he envisions tolls hampering Missouri’s most viable economic roadway.

"I can see drivers and carriers adjusting routes and diverting around I-70," Crawford said in an interview Monday. "It’s important to consider this from a Missourian standpoint. Tolls could impede progress."

MoDOT already relies heavily on the state fuel tax of 17 cents per gallon, but that funding is no longer sustainable, department spokesman Bob Brendel said.

“We’re talking about the same roads that need the same type of maintenance, while we're bringing in less money for fuel tax,” Brendel said.

Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said fuel tax is decreasing because vehicles are becoming more efficient. Nixon noted Thursday that the increasing use of hybrid and electric cars is also cutting into fuel tax revenue.

Earlier this week the Missouri House of Representatives voted to prevent MoDOT from implementing tolls on I-70.

The House was considering a bill that would have allowed MoDOT to ink an agreement with private investors to rebuild the state highway.

*The initial version of the bill banned MoDOT from establishing toll roads. Under a substitute  version of the bill, toll roads would not have been banned, but they also would not have been authorized. The Missouri House, however, voted 110-44 against accepting the substitute version, moving along the initial bill that includes the ban on toll roads.

All of Boone County's representatives — Democrats Paul Quinn, Chris Kelly, Mary Still and Stephen Webber — voted against the substitute bill.

Kelly said he believes the future of the bill allowing for private reconstruction of I-70 is bleak.

“Nothing is ever dead while we’re in session,” Kelly said. “But this (bill) is sleepy. I’d go as far to say it’s catatonic.”

 The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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