If it were up to the top brass at the Missouri Department of Transportation, tollbooths would be placed on Interstate 70 at the Illinois and Kansas borders.
Revenue from the tolls would be enough to cover at least 40 percent, and perhaps as much as 80 percent, of the estimated $2.4 billion to $2.7 billion needed to widen and improve I-70 all the way across the state, according to the Missouri Toll Feasibility Study. Conducted for the Transportation Department in 2002, the study explored the idea of using tollbooths on several highway corridors throughout Missouri.
MoDOT Director Henry Hungerbeeler promoted the idea during a meeting with Boone County and Columbia officials last week.
The Missouri Constitution, however, prohibits tollbooths on state highways, a situation that puts transportation officials in a precarious position. Only voters can authorize amendments to the constitution, and Missourians over the past several years have been in no mood to let MoDOT have its way. Voters in August 2002 trounced Proposition B, a proposal for an additional half-cent sales tax and a 4-cent boost in the motor fuels tax that would have generated around $500 million a year for highway projects.
MoDOT spokesman Jeff Briggs knows the public would be wary of tollbooths on I-70.
“We have to ask ourselves if people are willing to support the idea of toll roads,” Briggs said. “There’s a (private) toll bridge at the Lake of the Ozarks that is very well received, and it shows that the concept can work.”
Charlie Hooper, a 60-year-old tractor-trailer driver who’s been trucking for 40 years, said Missouri roads are among the worst in the country. While washing his truck’s windshield at the Midway Truck Stop outside of Columbia, the rural Columbia resident named Interstate 44 and the western half of I-70 as his least favorite Missouri highways.
Hooper, however, doesn’t believe tollbooths would do much for I-70. In fact, he believes any money raised from tolls would probably be used for something else, he said.
“I think it’s a terrible idea,” Hooper said. “I pay $150 to $200 a month in tolls on the East Coast.”
Ben Schaefer, 23, of Carlinville, Ill., drives I-70 about once a month. As he pumped gas at a Kingdom City gas station, he said tollbooths wouldn’t bother him nearly as much as they would Illinois residents who commute to St. Louis every day.
“My business runs to St. Louis, and it would cost a lot of money,” Schaefer said. “Plus, I don’t trust some of my drivers with loose change.”
MoDOT is holding a series of public meetings and less formal “drop-in centers” to explain its plans for Missouri roads, including I-70, while allowing community members to give feedback.
The council will hold a drop-in center on Nov. 4 at the Day’s Inn Conference Center from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Maps and other information will be available. Questions should be directed to 800-590-0066.