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Senator proposes bringing toll roads to Missouri

November 16, 1999
By: Francie Krantz
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - A senior lawmaker wants to bring toll roads to Missouri, a move that could affect Columbians who drive on Interstate 70.

The chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee said Tuesday he wants to introduce a bill during next year's legislative session that would pave the way for toll roads to selected areas in Missouri.

"Toll roads are going to be the wave of the future in funding transportation across America," said Sen. Danny Staples, D-Eminence. "I don't think without them we will be able to compete with other neighboring states, because I think they will all be going in that direction."

Staples said his proposal would be submitted to Missouri voters for the final decision, if the legislature agrees.

Staples said he will be studying different areas of the state in the coming months to determine where tolls would be most effective. Although Staples said he would start with a toll bridge in St. Louis city, he said he hopes that eventually tolls would be authorized in several spots across the state, including -- possibly -- Interstate 70 and Interstate 44.

Staples announced his idea before a meeting of the legislature's Joint Committee on Transportation that heard the Transportation Department director complain his department did not have sufficient funds to meet the state's highway needs.

Henry Hungerbeeler, Transportation Department director, said that Missouri falls far behind 45 other states in transportation funding, and that "the cumulative effect of insufficient investment in transportation is a large backlog of unfunded projects."

Hungerbeeler said collecting tolls to supplement current funding would give the department adequate revenue to begin new construction. Currently, a tax on gas purchases funds the department.

Tolls plus tax revenue is the formula used by most states with good transportation systems, he said.

Although Staples and Hungerbeeler were quick to support a toll road system, lawmakers outside the committee said they were hesitant to support the proposal.

Rep. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, who serves on the House Transportation Committee, said that while bringing toll roads to Missouri is a valid option, he isn't sure voters would buy it.

"I don't know if anyone likes tolls, but no one likes a higher gas or sales tax either," Graham said. "We can't fix the roads for nothing, though."

Rep. Chuck Pryor, R-Versailles, who serves on the joint committee, stopped short of endorsing toll roads altogether.

"I wouldn't want to give MODOT total authority for every road to have tolls, but I think we should look at it on a case-by-case basis," he said.