JEFFERSON CITY - Proponents of a new toll bridge over the Mississippi River came before the Senate Transportation Committee Tuesday to endorse a plan that would alleviate traffic between Missouri and Illinois.
"As an interstate connector, if we can not reduce the congestion that exists today, and that which will only grow worse, commercial truckers will choose to go north and south of the state and bypass Missouri completely when traversing the country," said Mike DeCola, president and CEO of Mississippi Lime Co. based in St. Louis. He also warned legislators of possible commercial complications that could be lifted by a toll bridge.
The proposed toll bridge calls for a public/private partnership that would allow the Missouri Deparment of Transportation to work with a private company to finance and construct a bridge. The bridge would enter into downtown St. Louis that connects with Illinois.
Currently the 43-year old Poplar Street bridge over the Mississippi River is the main source of transportation between the two states. The proposed bridge would be an additional option for commuters travelling to and from Missouri.
Kevin Keith, chief engineer for the Transportation Department, said the implementation of private funds as the only way the project could be funded.
Keith also stressed the fact that the only risk takers in the deal would be the private company that will build the bridge. Interested firms would bid for the right to build.
"Foreign firms seem most interested in this type of project," Keith said. "Similar deals in the past have gone through foreign investors."
Republican Senator Matt Bartle, from the Kansas City area, expressed concerns regarding reliance on a possible foreign investing firm.
"We need to make sure that if we move in this direction and get more investment in infrastructure products, we have not created a legal problem for ourselves in the future, that we could have our chain yanked," Bartle said.
A similar toll bridge was constructed several years ago across Lake of the Ozarks, connecting Business Route 54 with the Sunrise Beach area.
In 1970 and again in 1992, Missouri voters rejected a constitutional amendment that would give the state Transportation Department authority to build and operate toll roads. A toll road or bridge operated by a private interest would not require statewide voter approval for a constitutional amendment.
Illinois and six other surrounding states of Missouri have toll roads, including Interstate 70 in Kansas.
A similar project in Indiana received a bid of $3.8 billion.
The bill, SB 938, is sponsored by Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton.