The advisory group comprises community members and government officials who provide community input about widening a six-mile stretch of the interstate that goes through Columbia to eight lanes.
The Missouri Department of Transportation has hired CH2M Hill, a St. Louis consulting firm, to assess economic and environmental impacts of the widening. The study also is expected to determine which combination of access roads along the route would best suit the area.
As part of the study, a survey was sent to more than 400 businesses during the past month to help gauge possible economic effects of the proposed widening.
The group will discuss results of the business surveys today, along with a list of questions it feels are relevant to community discussion of the I-70 project. The Missourian took some of those questions to Bob Brendel, spokesman for the Missouri Department of Transportation. Here are his answers:
Q: Why is this study being conducted?
A: Before MoDOT can use federal funds on any project, we have to conduct an environmental study in accordance with the national Environmental Policy Act.
Q: When can construction be expected to take place?
A: That is completely a funding-dependent question and, at the present time, there are no funds earmarked for the construction. It depends on when we get funding and how much funding we get.
Q: What are the estimated costs of improving I-70 for the whole state?
A: Estimated cost in today’s dollars for the entire 200 miles is $3 billion, but this is not an all-or-nothing project. We don’t need $3 billion to start improving I-70. We plan to begin construction where the needs are greatest and phase in the project based on the funds available.
Q: How will this project be funded?
A: If tolls were implemented they could generate from 40 percent to 50 percent of the cost to widen I-70. But at the present time, MoDOT does not have the constitutional authority to operate toll roads. It would have to be approved by legislature and, ultimately, the vote of the people. MoDOT’s No. 1 legislative priority is tolling authority.
Q: What is the priority of Columbia in the context of the statewide construction schedule?
A: That hasn’t been determined yet, but you have to assume that because of the capacity needs of Columbia it would be very high on the priority list.
Q: Wouldn’t a more strategic, longer-range solution be to develop a bypass that accommodates future growth?
A: The northern bypass option was eliminated because it didn’t pull enough traffic off of the existing road to solve the capacity problem. The existing route would have still needed more lanes, and as long as improvements had to be made to the existing corridor, it made more sense to just improve the existing interstate.