Our Opinion: Renewed I-70 conversation

Two days of hearings this week exploring the future of Interstate 70 yielded two observations.

First, consensus exists that the nearly 60-year-old highway is deteriorating and congested.

Second, interested parties largely disagree about how to raise the $2 billion-$4 billion needed to rebuild the interstate.

The toll concept again was advanced by Kevin Keith, director of the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT).

Under his scenario, the state agency would contract with a private company that would reconstruct the highway, then recover its costs by collecting tolls.

The toll option has support from the American Council of Engineering Companies in Missouri, its president and CEO, Bruce Wylie, testified.

But tolls were not embraced by other interested parties, including the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association. “We just don’t think that tolling and public/private partnerships are the right way to fund roads,” said the group’s executive director, Ron Leone.

Mike Right, an officer of the AAA-Auto Club of Missouri, testified his members show greater support for a statewide sales tax to improve roads and bridges statewide.

Keith estimated a 1 cent sales tax hike would generate about $700 million a year, enough to meet his agency’s statewide needs, including I-70. He added a half-cent sales tax over 10 years would cover the cost of rebuilding I-70 alone.

Another possible financing option is an increase in the fuel tax, now 17 cents a gallon.

However, an increase in the fuel tax — like a sales tax hike — would require voter approval.

Financing is a critical consideration, but it is not the only variable.

Would I-70 — in whole or in part — be widened or relocated? What would be the effect on existing businesses? What would be the extent of attracting new development? How many new construction jobs would be created?

Spanning the state from St. Louis to Kansas City, I-70 touches — directly or indirectly — numerous interested parties.

Environmental and other studies have been made about what to do, and some of those parties have been trying for years to spark discussion about the future of I-70.

We are encouraged that conversation has been renewed, although we recognize much dialogue and debate remains.

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