MoDOT proposal would rebuild I-70

Callaway Connector could be added to plan

The Missouri Department of Transportation has unveiled a 10-year plan to construct $7.9 billion in new highways financed by a temporary 1-cent increase in the state sales tax.

The department’s current plan includes rebuilding I-70 from Wentzville near St. Louis to Independence near Kansas City.

The plan would build a new six-lane highway with two lanes used by trucks and four lanes used by cars and other smaller vehicles.

The project would construct a new I-70 highway through Callaway and Boone counties.

A recently announced plan to build a new highway from Fulton to the Callaway nuclear plant also could be added to the program.

Ten percent of the new sales tax revenue would be shared with counties and cities around the state to help with their street and road needs. Missouri cities and counties each would get another $396 million from the state sales tax increase.

The temporary 1-cent increase in the state sales tax would expire after its in effect for 10 years. It would come in the form of a constitutional amendment, which could be placed before the voters by the Missouri General Assembly. The method would bypass the governor, who could not veto the measure. It would go on the November 2014 general election ballot unless the governor decides to place the issue before the voters at an earlier election.

The tax would not be collected on medicine, groceries and gasoline.

Prior to a vote of the people, MoDOT would publish a list indicating how the new revenue would be spent.

The temporary extra sales tax money could not be diverted to other state uses and could be used only for transportation projects.

The plan would include a provision that the state’s gas tax could not be increased during the 10-year period when the 1-cent sales tax hike is in effect.

MoDOT estimates it would cost from $1.5 billion to $2 billion to rebuild I-70 from Wentzville to Independence. The plan calls for MoDOT to use its bonding authority for the I-70 rebuilding in order to make more money available for other projects.

The plan is to issue about $1.6 billion in bonds for the I-70 rebuilding project. The department would earmark at least $100 million of the $700 million generated each year from the sales tax increase to meet the I-70 bond payments.

If the 10-year sales tax is not renewed by Missouri voters, other funds available to MoDOT would be used to pay off the remaining bonds on the I-70 project.

The I-70 project has been identified as the state’s largest need.

In recent years, Missouri’s highway construction effort has been cut back drastically.

The Missouri Department of Transportation reduced its staff by 1,200 employees, closed 131 office and maintenance facilities and sold more than 750 pieces of road equipment.

Since 1992 concrete, asphalt and steel costs have outpaced fuel tax revenue 2 to 1 in Missouri. More fuel-efficient vehicles have cut back normal increases in fuel tax revenue. The department’s annual construction program fell from $1.2 billion to $700 million.

This comes at a time when the state ranks sixth nationally in the number of bridges and has the nation’s seventh largest highway system with 33,000 miles of highways.

Missouri’s highway system is larger than all of the highways in Kansas and Illinois combined. But Missouri’s highway budget is only about one-third the size of the highway budget in Illinois.

Highway Commission Chairman Rudy Farber said state and federal fuel tax receipts will continue to dwindle as cars become more fuel efficient and inflation continues to decrease the purchasing power of fuel tax revenue.

A poll conducted last month by Normington Petts of 800 likely Missouri voters showed a one-cent general sales tax dedicated to transportation projects would pass if put before voters. The poll showed 52 percent said they would vote yes in favor of a one-cent sales tax increase for transportation projects.

The margin increases another two percent in favor if specific projects are listed to be improved.

The highway plan would sustain nearly 270,000 jobs in Missouri during the next decade.

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