Senate bill authorizing tolls on I-70 hits roadblock

Wednesday, March 7, 2012 | 7:59 p.m. CST; updated 8:33 p.m. CST, Wednesday, March 7, 2012

COLUMBIA Plans to turn Interstate 70 into a toll road have hit a dead end.

The Senate Transportation Committee met again Wednesday morning to hear testimony on Senate Bill 752, a measure that would authorize tolling on I-70.

Committee Chairman Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, said he does not see the bill moving past the committee for a vote on the Senate floor.

After sitting through three weeks worth of hearings, committee member Sen. John Lamping, R-Ladue, said he agrees tolling isn't the best solution he's seen to funding the I-70 overhaul.

"The public is just not ready for tolling," Lamping said. "Quite frankly, I don't think a public-private partnership will be the ultimate solution."

The Missouri Department of Transportation had hoped to engage in such a partnership to pay for the reconstruction of the aging interstate. In a public-private partnership, investors would front the money to rebuild I-70, estimated between $2 billion to $4 billion, in exchange for the authorization to establish and maintain tolls on the highway to recoup their investment.

Stouffer, who doesn't support tolls, said the state's $20 billion in transportation needs make it hard to focus on a single project, even one as important as I-70.

"There are other needs far beyond I-70," Stouffer said. "I-70 may be the most immediate, but I-44 is only five years behind."

Much of the testimony the committee heard during the past few weeks concerned pinning down a long-term funding stream for all of Missouri's transportation needs, I-70 included.

Several funding solutions emerged, with a combination of a fuel-tax and sales-tax increases seeming to be the favorite, Stouffer said.

The committee said the hearings did advance the conversation toward the state's transportation needs, including rebuilding bridges and maintaining worn-down outer roads.

"We've had some great dialogue with the public," Stouffer said. "I'd like to continue that."

Stouffer said his next step is to create an interim transportation committee of legislators from both the house and senate who would tour the state and listen to the public's opinions on infrastructure. He said he hopes to gather input on all of the state's transportation needs and hammer out a clear-cut financial plan.

Despite the failure of the bill, sponsor Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, said he trusts the committee "will see this through."

"This bill was a wild dream to me," Stouffer said. "We're slowly finding out the issues, and the public finally understands the need (to rebuild)."

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