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February 16, 2017 1:20 PM, EST

Missouri’s Need for Funds Drives Toll Talk Toward Dead End

Jimmy Emerson, DVM/Flickr

The Missouri Highway 13 Corridor Coalition took stands against tolling Interstate 70 and for state legislators increasing the state fuel tax.

Randy White, executive director of the Pioneer Trails Regional Planning Commission, said he thought talk of interstate tolls ended after “an outcry along the I-70 corridor” about two years ago.

“That’s not the case. … Tolling is not DOA,” he told the coalition Feb. 13.

He said the state requested an eight-month extension of authorization “to do tolling” on the state’s federal highways.

The extension is the last the state can receive, he said.

Toll talk primarily focuses on I-70 but could affect any federal highway in the state, he said.

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“It leaves the door open,” he said.

Johnson County Presiding Commissioner Bill Gabel said commissioners at the County Commissioners Association of Missouri meeting last week unanimously opposed toll roads.

“They don’t want it,” he said.

White distributed information stating private firms would finance, design, build, operate and maintain tolls roads. The companies would control roads through a long-term lease and charge a fee to recover costs plus profit.

RELATED: Wisconsin DOT study finds tolls would raise billions for state highways, boost travel costs

Gabel said one proposal involves building an express or “hot” lane in the median that would be subject to tolls.

Coalition member Bill Kolas of Higginsville said some exits would be blocked.

“You’ll only have so many exits. Somebody’s going to suffer,” Lafayette County Commissioner Tracy Dyer said.

Coalition Chairman Bill Bernier said drivers on a toll road may not want to get on and off as often as now, hurting local economies.

“That’s why they have plazas on tollways,” he said. “It would be devastating to communities.”

Tolls would not apply in St. Louis or Kansas City, Bernier said, with the burden falling on rural areas.

Economic development councils in Montgomery and Warren counties estimate some costs, based on 15 cents per mile. The cost to travel from Warrensburg to St. Louis is estimated at $46.20, and from Kansas City to Warrensburg at $13.50.

The toll to Columbia from St. Louis would be $22.50, and from Kansas City to Columbia, $36.

The information states merchandise shipped via a toll road would have a markup; a toll road would impact economic growth, jobs and residential development; and tolls would have a negative impact on secondary roads and communities.

The public-private partnerships would transfer roads and bridges built with tax revenues to the public sector for profit, and the state would relinquish control over tolls and road conditions, the information states.

The information cites alternative transportation funding solutions, including an increase in the state fuel tax and/or the federal fuel tax; a sales tax; bonds for transportation projects; a user fee based on miles driven; increased vehicle registration and license fees; and dedicating state revenue growth to transportation.

The Highway 13 Corridor Coalition unanimously voted to support an increase in the fuel tax as an alternative.

Gabel said state legislators “should do what we send state legislators to do” and vote for a fuel-tax increase without going to voters.

“I don’t want to leave it to a public vote,” he said, stating voters “are very poorly informed."

"Any time you talk about a tax increase, you get thumbs down," Gabel said. "A vote of the public will be a waste of time and money.”

“If rural communities in Missouri are not in favor, it won’t pass,” Bernier said.

The group voted to notify state lawmakers that coalition members want them to pass a fuel-tax increase and “not pass the buck to the public.”

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC