JEFFERSON CITY - Interstate 70 would be a six-lane highway from Kansas City to St. Louis under a plan recommended by the Missouri Transportation Department on Wednesday.
The six-lane proposal was presented at a meeting of the Highways and Transportation Commission, which took no immediate action on the idea.
MoDOT officials suggested widening the highway instead of other options, including building a parallel road. Officials conceded, however, that they did not have plan for financing the $2.5 to $3 billion project.
"The key issue here is funding," said Dave Nichols, MoDOT director of project development. "We don't have the funding today to build I-70 if we wanted to start construction today."
Despite the lack of funding, department officials plan to move ahead. They told the commission the department now will conduct several environmental and public opinion studies.
"This project will certainly not proceed without continued involvement from the public," said MoDOT Director Henry Hungerbeeler.
MoDOT will focus several independent studies around urban areas, where widening the highway may be difficult.
"We're talking about, in general, staying with the existing corridor, but we know we're going to have to do some analysis in Columbia and other cities along the corridor," Nichols said.
A parallel, separate highway -- free or a toll road -- was the other major idea under review by the department.
MoDOT officials reported a parallel highway would cost about the same as widening I-70, but they said they decided the latter approach was more suited to Missouri's needs. Nichols said building a parallel corridor would require more land usage and, thus, would affect farm land and residences along the existing interstate.
Under the widening plan, the new six-lane interstate would also include 12-foot shoulders and a wider median. If, in the future, the highway needed to be widened again, the shoulders could be turned into lanes, thus creating an eight-lane highway. Also, the center median would be wide enough for a high-speed train some time in the future.
In an interview after the commission session, the department's director indicated the proposal could take years to complete.
"There's a lot of up-front work that goes on in a project of this magnitude," Nichols said.
But Nichols said there are laws concerning the bidding process the legislature could change to allow the department to speed up the process.
"We don't want to spend 20 or 30 years rebuilding I-70," Nichols said.
Jim Talent, the Republican candidate for governor, has made highway improvement a central focus of his campaign.
In an interview shortly after the commission meeting, He said he is pleased MoDOT did not recommend building a parallel corridor, but said he thinks so much preliminary research is unnecessary.
"We have the most studied highways in the world," he said. "This is not rocket science."