JEFFERSON CITY - MoDOT director Kevin Keith told the Joint Transportation Committee that the 60-year old I-70 would become a "gravel parking lot" if nothing is done to address the road's aging infrastructure.
Under MoDOT's plan a group of private companies would put forward the initial funding for the project and would be paid back by way of tolls paid by I-70 users.
"The option to do nothing with 70 is not there," Keith said.
The proposed toll could reach ten to 15 cents per mile for cars traveling along the highway and double that amount for trucks. The toll would cost about $30 for a car travelling across the state. It would affect all I-70 users except use in urban St. Louis and Kansas City, where MoDOT is not currently planning repairs. The project would be completed in six to eight years under MoDOT's estimate.
Keith said the plan to repair I-70 would create thousands of jobs across the state, estimating that if $2 billion were invested in the highway that 6,000 jobs would be created per year.
Some lawmakers, however, said the toll road could end up costing the state jobs particularly in the trucking industry. Rep. Tim Meadows, D-Imperial, said the increased user cost on I-70 would force companies to consolidate their shipments and take away trucking jobs.
"Those are the guys that are going to be taking it on the chin," said Meadows, a former truck driver.
Keith told the committee the toll system was the best funding option available, but is not a done deal as it still requires a contract between MoDOT a private investors, who would pay for the initial construction. Keith said other plans to fund the project, including fuel tax increases, were not practical given the current economic climate.
"I hate tolls, there is nobody in this state who likes tolls, but somewhere along the line you have to pay," said Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City.
The plan to fix I-70 is a unique solution according to Keith, who stressed this would not solve Missouri's other highway infrastructure problems.
"This is one problem funded by a unique solution," Keith said.
No formal bill has been filed in the General Assembly to allow MoDOT to advance the I-70 plan.