JEFFERSON CITY - Witnesses hit the brakes on the legislature's plan to turn Interstate 70 into a toll road at the Joint Committee on Transportation Oversight.
Ron Leone of the Missouri Petroleum Marketers patiently waited his turn to speak at Wednesday's hearing to voice his opposition to a tollway on I-70. He was among many stakeholders who attended Wednesday's meeting to discuss the possibility of a tollway.
Because of a funding cut to the Missouri Department of Transportation, lawmakers are discussing on how to fund the repair of I-70, an interstate that is long overdue for major repairs. One proposal to produce the necessary funds is to add a tollway along I-70 between Kansas City and St. Louis.
Ron Leone was speaking on behalf of gas stations, convienence stores and truckstops in Missouri including those located along I-70. Leone said that he acknowledges the need for a better road system, but he said he believes that a tollway is both a bad idea and bad public policy.
"First and foremost, it must, must go to a vote of the people," Leone said. "You can not use PPPs (public-private partnerships) as a loophole to avoid a vote of the people."
Leone explained that a public-private partnership would allow private companies to earn a profit on public assets, something he said would be the wrong move.
"They are about profit and we need to be careful of that," he said.
On behalf of the convience stores Leone represents, he says he's concerned about anything that would hinder their business. Leone said he almost dropped out of his seat when he heard the director of the Missouri Department of Transportation admit there would be at least a 10 percent change in the amount of traffic and diversion to other roads.
Leone requested that rest areas be excluded if lawmakers decide to go forward with a public-private partnership in Missouri. He described these commercialized rest areas as government-sponsored monopolies.
"It cripples all of my members that already have those companies out at the exit locations," Leone said.
Rep. Charlie Denison, R-Springfield, encouraged Leone and other stakeholders at the meeting to stir up the conversation about how the Missouri Department of Transportation will be financed over the next few years.
"We must talk this thing out," Rep. Denison said, "and if you could do your part we'd really appreciate it."