A debate erupted on the House floor last week over turning Interstate 70 into a toll road.
As part of the House budget committee, State Rep. Bart Korman, High Hill, added an amendment eliminating any type of tolling to be established on Missouri roads.
The amendment was agreed to in committee and then was questioned in open floor debate by a member of the same committee who voted to pass the bill to the full body.
According to State Rep. Justin Alferman, R-Hermann, who is the budget committee vice chair, the amendment language was sustained and the budget passed as originally presented from committee.
“I will continue to fight tolling,” Alferman said. “It is unfair to fund transportation all over the state on the backs of the constituents who border I-70.”
Alferman said I-70 remains a target for tolling because it is the only highway the federal government has given Missouri a waiver to toll. “What about Interstates 44 and 55?,” Alferman asked. “Tolling is really a red herring and arguing it is a waste of time and money. Plus, in my opinion, it’s double taxation.”
With the tolling debate again in the forefront, lobbying groups are forming to fight the measures, especially in the areas along the I-70 corridor.
Just last week, the group A Better Road Forward, which opposes tolling, began a citizens initiative to get the tolling issue on the statewide ballot in 2018.
Last month, the city of Warrenton paid a lobbying firm $15,000 to target out state areas of Missouri about the consequences of establishing a toll road along the state’s central artery.
Alferman says these lobby groups may be crucial to quashing the tolling issue.
“There are only 16-20 of us in the House whose districts border I-70,” Alferman said. “It’s very important to make sure our citizens are educated and we don’t have a voice out there yet.”
He added the addition of tolling would require a change to the Missouri Constitution, which can only be done by a vote of the residents statewide.
“The people have already paid for it once,” Alferman said. “This would mean the conversion of a public highway to a toll road. If it happens, it would be the first time in the history of the United States.”
Although Alferman hopes the budget bill will move through the Senate smoothly, he is certain there will be even more changes before it makes it to the governor’s desk and tolling may come up again.
State Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, says he doesn’t think any action will be taken on tolling this year.
“I just don’t think it will get any traction,” Schatz said. “I especially don’t see I-70 being tolled.”
Schatz added he would be in favor of tolling new roads or motorists being charged a toll to use a High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane in high-traffic areas.
“I don’t think people would have a problem with that,” he said. “It’s probably a non-starter with so many other things going on this year, but I’m not going to leave anything off the table.”
Schatz agreed with Alferman, that although it doesn’t look like the tolling issue will be addressed in the five weeks left in the 2017 legislative session, it is important to keep people all over the state informed of the negativity toward it in the I-70 corridor through lobbying groups.