Toll road opponents watch for final deadline

By Adam Rollins, Record Staff Writer
Posted 5/5/17

As the last days of the state Legislature’s current session approach, opponents of a push to allow tolling along Interstate 70 are hopeful that their efforts will pay off.“We feel fairly …

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Toll road opponents watch for final deadline


As the last days of the state Legislature’s current session approach, opponents of a push to allow tolling along Interstate 70 are hopeful that their efforts will pay off.“We feel fairly confident that senate leadership will not allow language on P3s on the budget,” said David Barklage, a political consultant whose firm was hired to coordinate anti-tolling efforts.P3 refers to a public-private partnership, a mechanism by which the state could partner with a private entity to construct improvements to I-70, paid for by collecting tolls.Opponents of the tolling proposal, including a number of local business leaders, say the plan would be an economic disaster for towns along the I-70 corridor. Their assessment is that supporters will try to implement tolling with an amendment to the state budget.Rep. Bryan Spencer, whose district includes Wright City and Wentzville, tried to block that move in early April by introducing an amendment to a House budget bill that would have prevented any funding from being used to set up a tolling system.The state Senate, however, removed that language when it passed its version of the bill on April 25.May 5 is the deadline to get a final version of the budget to Gov. Eric Greitens’ desk. Until then, opponents have been keeping a close watch on developments in the Legislature.“I think we’ve got a commitment of the right people. We’ll be watching diligently,” Barklage said. “There’s other issues that are a higher priority (in the Senate). I just don’t see it.”Supporters of toll roads are under a time crunch to pass a bill by the end of this legislative session. That’s because tolling I-70 can only be done with the permission of the Federal Highway Administration. That permission expires this year.MoDOT officials say they need more revenue, whether from tolls or another source, to adequately address I-70’s increasing traffic load and a crumbling foundation. MoDOT estimates reconstructing the more than 50-year-old road and adding a lane in each direction will cost at least $2 billion. Multiple measures that would have raised statewide fuel taxes in response to funding needs have been defeated in recent years.Future planningMembers of the transportation advocacy group A, Better Road Forward (ABRF), met with Barklage April 28 to assess the outlook for tolling and what’s next after this legislative session.Although federal permission to establish I-70 tolling expires this year, that policy could change. President Donald Trump has previously expressed support for funding infrastructure projects through private partnerships. A change in that direction at the federal level could reopen the debate in Missouri.ABRF has filed an initiative petition that would add a ban on toll roads to the Missouri constitution. If it receives enough support, that issue would appear on the 2018 statewide election ballot.In the meantime, ABRF is focused on expanding its message and building grass-roots support for a transportation solution that doesn’t include tolling. They hope to recruit a broad coalition of area business and first responder agencies who rely on the interstate, communications consultant Mike Hafner said.ABRF has contacted multiple local governments to seek support and financial contributions. Warren County gave the group $15,000 in March.The Warrenton Board of Aldermen discussed contributing $5,000 during its May 2 meeting, but said the process to that decision has been slow. Officials have been careful so that city resources aren’t used in support of or against future transportation-related ballot issues, which is prohibited by state law. Alderman Gary Auch also said there is confusion about whether money would go to ABRF or to Barklage’s consulting firm or to an individual consultant. He said before any money is approved, the city should have a written agreement defining who exactly will receive the funding and what it will be used for. The matter was pushed back for consideration at the board of aldermen’s next meeting May 16.A Better Road Forward