Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, thinks making Interstate 70 into a toll road is a better transportation improvement option than raising Missouri’s fuel tax by 2 cents a gallon.
Schaaf presented his plan Tuesday to the Senate’s General Laws and Pensions Committee, which he chairs.
“We’ve got a problem with transportation in the state of Missouri, and we have a funding shortfall — we’re not going to be able to draw down (federal) money in the future and, starting in 2017, we’re going to be $40 million short,” he told the committee. “Sen. (Mike) Kehoe said the other day that we’ll be $100 million short, starting in 2018 and thereafter.”
Schaaf proposes to treat I-70 as an asset and lease it “to a company that would, then, give the state a sum of money,” perhaps $3 billion or $5 billion.
He said other states, like Indiana, have followed a similar plan successfully, but the committee also was told the company that paid nearly $4 billion for a toll road filed for bankruptcy last September.
Under Schaaf’s plan, Missouri would take the money it’s paid and pay off the bonds sold in recent years to pay for other highway improvements, then use the rest of the money to pay for other road improvements, including I-70.
The private company leasing the interstate would manage it for a contracted period of 30, 40 or 50 years, Schaaf said, and collect tolls to recover its investment.
“I would envision that, ideally, we would collect tolls only on the vehicles that do the most damage to I-70, which are mostly trucks,” Schaaf said. “If we could do that, it could put us in a good place for the future.”
Schaaf has said he would support the idea of a fuel tax increase, if it were sent to a statewide vote. However, his toll road proposal for I-70 doesn’t include such a vote. “Not all the people in Missouri would be forced to drive on this road,” he said.