JEFFERSON CITY - The Missouri House has approved a ban on making Interstate 70 a toll road.
The House rejected the language Tuesday to remove the ban on making I-70 a toll road from approximately Wentzville to Blue Springs. The proposed bill would allow the Missouri Department of Transportation to enter into agreements with private companies to fund future improvements to the thoroughfare. This business method is known as a public-private partnership.
MoDOT officials expressed disappointment following the vote. Bob Brendel, MoDOT Special Assignments Coordinator, said it would be bad for any viable option to be taken off the table that would help fund infrastructure improvements in the state at time of decreasing resources and increasing need.
"We think it's good public policy to discuss every option for funding infrastructure in the state of Missouri," Brendel said. "But, ultimately MoDOT will follow the direction of the legislature."
Brendel said it could take 20-40 years to make full improvements to I-70 without a toll and the current amount of resources at hand. However, Brendel said the project will take only six to eight years with public-private partnerships.
Although the bill would allow the partnerships, the bill would not allow MoDOT to pay companies back without revenue from a toll road.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Thomas Long, R-Battlefield, says the public-private partnership aspect of the bill is unpopular with some in the legislature and may have to be changed in the future for a smooth passage.
"Right now we have a few issues to work out in that regard before we bring [the bill] up for its final vote," Long said.
Brandel said instituting public-private partnerships would not change the situation. Without revenue from a toll road, he said "MoDOT would be making annual payments to the private partner, which is no different that what we'd be doing if we did it ourselves."
Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, said he has never supported toll roads. However, he is pushing the toll road idea as a "conversation starter" to discuss options to improve state infrastructure. He also endorses public private-partnerships.
Kehoe said a toll would be better than a gas tax. He said he views the toll as a user fee and the gas tax a statewide issue where those who do not use I-70 would have to pay for the improvements.
"It's one of those things where nobody likes the funding options so let's at least get one of those on the table to talk about it," Kehoe said. "(We need) to figure out if we can get some conversation going on (the) other options we have."