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Our Opinion: I-70 project popular; tolls, taxes, not so much

Would you pay a toll to travel on I-70?

Would you support a 15-cent gas tax increase or a statewide half-cent sales tax?

Those are among the ideas to finance rebuilding on Interstate 70 across outstate Missouri.

Motorists who travel I-70 generally agree the roadway is deficient and congested.

But it is difficult to find consensus, or support, for a financing mechanism to generate the $2 billion-$4 billion needed to rebuild the highway.

Recent discussion has revived the idea of making I-70 a toll road.

The concept, however, is not without impediments, beginning with a legal interpretation that prohibits using state highway money for toll projects.

To surmount this obstacle, an idea advanced by the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) would involve a public-private partnership.

Under the scenario, MoDOT would contract with a private firm to rebuild I-70 and collect tolls as specified in the contract. In the existing model, no tolls would be collected in the St. Louis and Kansas City metropolitan areas.

State lawmakers briefed about the concept estimate about 50 percent of Missourians would support a toll project.

Other financing ideas would require statewide support in the form of voter approval.

Increasing the fuel tax 15 cents a gallon for 10 years — estimated to raise the amount needed for the I-70 project — would require passage in a statewide vote. The increase would nearly double the existing 17-cents-a-gallon fuel tax.

Similarly, voters would need to adopt an estimated half-cent sales for a 10-year period to pay for the rebuilding.

File the I-70 project under the category: Wanted, but at no extra cost.

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