The first step in a road trip is finding the best route to the destination.
If our desired destination is to find a way to save a deteriorating Interstate 70 -- a challenge that has vexed Missourians for generations -- Gov. Mike Parson drew a straightforward road map for success.
In his State of the State address, Parson detailed a plan to spend nearly $1 billion of the state's surplus to widen I-70 in congested areas, while lobbying the federal government to complete the job statewide in the more rural areas.
His budget proposal asks lawmakers to allocate $859 million of the more than $5 billion state surplus to widen the interstate in suburban areas of Kansas City, St. Louis and Columbia.
This partnership approach is a reasonable and achievable goal. One reason a solution to the problem has been so elusive in the past is because of the size of the overall project. Missouri Department of Transportation officials estimate it would cost $2.7 billion to widen I-70 statewide.
We've known the need to address I-70, the oldest of the interstates in the state, has existed for generations.
I-70, which was built between 1956 and 1965, has been the subject of MoDOT studies for nearly two decades as highway officials have sought ways to improve the condition, capacity and safety of the highway. In 2006, an environmental impact statement recommended I-70 should be rebuilt from the ground up with a minimum of adding one late in each direction for the length of the highway.
A 2021 study by TRIP, a national transportation research nonprofit, came to similar conclusions, spelling out how the pavement and bridges in Missouri's section of the interstate system are aging and are showing signs of their advancing ages.
The amount of traffic on Missouri's interstate system is outstripping its capacity, with nearly half of Missouri's urban interstates contested, the report said.
Missouri's interstates account for 2 percent of all lane miles in the state, but they carry 27 percent of the state's traffic, the report noted. The number of vehicles in Missouri has increased 3.5 times since funding was approved for the interstate system.
Clearly, the time for a solution is now when it comes to Missouri's oldest interstate. And while the work to actually start the improvements will be years away, the time to commit to the work and to procure the finances is now.
"To those who say we can't afford it, I say we can't afford not to," Parson said. "This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and the time is now."
With this plan to address the congestion and safety issues in the metro areas of I-70 first, Missouri could put itself in the driver's seat when it comes to finding a long-term solution to all of I-70's needs.
For the safety of its citizens and as an investment in Missouri's economic future, now is the time for Missouri to invest in I-70.
-- News Tribune