As it has in recent legislative sessions, the issue of making portions of Interstate 70 a toll road between Kansas City and St. Louis has again raised what could be seen as its ugly head to many Missourians.
The most recent incarnation of a tolling bill comes from Kansas City Republican State Rep. Kevin Corlew, who also has pressed the issue unsuccessfully in past sessions.
The current form of the legislation, HB 155, was proposed in December by Corlew and would create the Interstate 70 Public Private Partnership Act.
According to the bill language, the act would allow any private partner to submit a request for approval to the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission to finance, develop or operate a new reconstruction project of I-70, funded by user fees.
The commission and a private partner may then impose, collect and enforce user fees (tolls) on the project.
After being read for a second time in the House on Jan. 5, the bill seems to be languishing, having not been assigned to any committee or placed on the formal calendar.
During the 2016 session, HB 2437, an identical bill proposed by Corlew, was referred to the House Transportation Committee, where it was killed.
On March 6, the Warren County Commission gave $15,000 to political consulting firm Barklage and Knodell, which will be promoting anti-tolling efforts across the state.
The commission was urged to allocate the money by the Greater Warren County Economic Development Council, which originally requested $20,000 to go to the consulting firm.
Stipulations placed on the firm include the money can only be used for anti-tolling efforts, which can include advertising, polling, social media and direct mail to inform residents.
Barklage and Knodell also will have to set up a not-for-profit organization to manage all funds they receive directed toward opposing tolling on I-70 and must register with the Missouri Ethics Commission as a lobbying firm.
With several I-70 tolling bills being shot down, or dying for lack of interest over the past several decades, the question arises if an anti-tolling push is even needed to convince the public of something they are already against.
Since many members of the Republican Caucus have signed oaths to not vote for anything that would impose new taxes on residents, the bill is having a hard time gaining any traction with Corlew’s fellow lawmakers..
State Rep. Bart Korman, R-High Hill, who has I-70 cutting through the heart of his district, said he hopes the current bill will meet the same demise as its predecessors.
“I’m not a big fan of it (tolling) to say the least,” Korman said. “I understand the representative that filed the bill is looking for ways to fund transportation, but I hope we don’t have to have a hearing on it this session.”
Korman said he has not been in contact with Warren County or the economic council, but understands the needs for an anti-tolling lobbyist, since there are similar firms lobbying for the passage of HB 155.
“Spending some money now could save businesses in the I-70 corridor thousands of dollars in the future,” Korman said. “People who live near I-70 are against tolling, but those who are further away, geographically, may not be. Those are the people who need to be informed if this would ever come to a referendum vote.”
On this side of the river, Franklin County Presiding Commissioner John Griesheimer said the Franklin County Commission has not been approached by any groups to support or oppose tolling on I-70.