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GUEST COMMENTARY: Tolls on I-70 could be solution to MoDOT's funding problems

Tuesday, September 2, 2014 | 5:56 p.m. CDT

With the defeat of Amendment 7 in the August primary, officials are looking for ways to fund Missouri’s highway system.

The Missouri Department of Transportation needs adequate funding, not only to maintain existing highways, but also to fund future multibillion-dollar projects, principal among these the reconstruction of Interstate 70.

One possible solution is to introduce tolls on I-70, which would allow those who benefit from the highway to pay for its improvement.

Those who directly benefit from I-70 are drivers, especially from companies that own commercial vehicles (interstate trucks).

According to MoDOT, at least 25 percent of the traffic on I-70 is attributable to commercial vehicles (more than two axles). These vehicles also make up much of I-70’s cross-state traffic, with 70 percent of commercial vehicles passing straight through Missouri.

If the state would toll I-70, both passenger and commercial vehicles would pay to use the interstate based on their size and distance traveled. In other states, commercial vehicles typically pay four to five times more than passenger vehicles.

They pay more to compensate for the extra damage they cause to the roadway. In fact, toll roads in other states generate much, if not most, of their revenue from commercial vehicles.

Here are examples of U.S. toll roads:

Ohio Turnpike

  • 20 percent commercial vehicles as a percentage of total vehicles
  • 33 percent miles on road from commercial vehicles
  • 55.7 percent of toll revenue from commercial vehicles

Pennsylvania Turnpike

  • 12.88 percent commercial vehicles as a percentage of total vehicles
  • 20 percent miles on road from commercial vehicles
  • 42.6 percent of toll revenue from commercial vehicles

Kansas Turnpike

  • 11.6 percent commercial vehicles as a percentage of total vehicles
  • 17.8 percent miles on road from commercial vehicles
  • 36.9 percent of toll revenue from commercial vehicles

If Missourians decide to rebuild I-70 using toll revenue, it is likely that much, or even most, of that revenue would come from commercial vehicles. That’s a fair solution, because commercial trucking entities cause the most wear on highways and benefit the most from good roads.

In fact, a well-maintained highway saves trucking companies money because it reduces delays and vehicle damage. The failure of Amendment 7 doesn’t mean that Missourians want bad roads; it means they want good roads paid for in a sensible way.

A sound tolling solution would allow drivers and interstate truckers alike to invest in the highway from which they so benefit.

Joseph Miller blogs for the Show-Me Institute, which promotes market solutions for Missouri public policy.


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Comments

Clay Cottingham September 3, 2014 | 6:09 a.m.

Why won't anyone talk about raising the fuel tax? Missouri has the lowest of all surrounding states, except Oklahoma, and the lowest on I-70 and I-80 from end to end. Raising fuel tax should be the first step.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith September 3, 2014 | 10:05 a.m.

@ Clay Cottingham:

You are correct, and, as has been pointed out several times in recent months (here), the federal tax on gasoline and diesel fuel hasn't been raised since 1993, when the sitting President's name was Clinton.

Since then, while the rate of general inflation has been relatively low, there has still been inflation, and the same federal government that hasn't raised their fuel taxes has continually pushed for greater vehicle fuel efficiency.

Well, DUH! Greater vehicle fuel efficiency is a GOOD and WORTHY thing, but if mileage driven hasn't significantly increased (and federal studies indicate that it really hasn't), more fuel effficiency with the same tax rate equals less tax revenue.

Do we have any federal (or state) politicians who managed to pass sixth grade math? Apparently not, and that doesn't just apply to motor vehicle fuel taxes.

Meanwhile, COSTS of maintaining both federal and state highway systems continue to rise, even with a reasonable rate of overall inflation.

Why does this continue? For the same reason many other things do: because we have both federal and state politicians WHO ARE FUNCTIONAL "GUTLESS WONDERS."

(Report Comment)

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