Can Nixon Drive Missouri Towards an I-70 Toll Road?

KC Star:
Toll roads have never been popular in Missouri.

Seventy percent of voters rejected them in 1970.

Fifty-eight percent voted against them yet again in 1992.

Some Missouri lawmakers made an unsuccessful stab at imposing tolls on Interstate 70 in 2012.

Now, Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon is lending political muscle to tolling, a move that will stir up more debate but may not prove any more fruitful.

Nixon just received a report from the Missouri Department of Transportation examining options for levying tolls on I-70, an asphalt conveyor belt for commerce and one of the original legs of the country’s nearly 60-year-old interstate highway system.

Nixon’s involvement will undoubtedly elevate the debate over tolls on I-70, but whether he can reverse years of opposition is another matter.

“It’s been a very contentious issue,” said Ed DeSoignie, executive director of the Heavy Constructors Association of Greater Kansas City — a group that sees tolls as a way of creating construction jobs.

There are several reasons toll roads could be politically difficult:

▪ The trucking industry opposes tolling. It argues tolls would pump too much money into administrative expenses instead of road work.

But the industry also fears it could bear a disproportionate cost of building the highway, driving up shipping costs that would eventually be shifted onto consumers.

“The tolling industry sees truckers as a rolling ATM,” said Tom Crawford, president of the Missouri Trucking Association.

▪ Small-town convenience store owners fear they will lose business because toll booths near their exits will drive traffic to free roads, causing them to bypass their shops.

▪ Opponents contend that charging tolls for an existing road such as I-70 amounts to double taxation. The interstate was already paid for when it was constructed many years ago. A toll is seen by some as a second tax.

While transportation advocates welcome Nixon to the tolling debate, they don’t expect to see tolls on I-70 anytime soon. There’s just too much work to sell the public on a funding strategy used in 28 states, they say.

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