When you don’t have the money to move forward on a needed project, you might as well throw the quest for possible solutions for a “fix” into the wind and hope for a miracle. That’s what the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission has done in seeking ideas on how to solve the Interstate 70 dilemma.
The first interstate in the nation to cross a state to connect two metro areas — St. Louis and Kansas City — no one thought much about how it would be maintained or improved 60 years later. The approximately 250-mile highway needs repairs and is inadequate in sections due to increased traffic. It is an interstate that carries an overload of trucks from all sections of the country.
When it was built, Missouri was hailed nationally as a leader in highway construction. Now Missouri is way down on the list of states with favorable highways. Missouri has joined the list of “most wanted” states when it comes to finding solutions to its highway transportation needs. The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) has done well in meeting highway needs with the resources available. With a low gasoline tax, failure to raise it or win approval of a sales tax to make I-70 a toll road, MoDOT has only enough resources to maintain it with a performance grade of D- due to a lack of funding.
The legislative and executive branches of Missouri for the most part have failed to assume leadership in the I-70 issue. Yeah, the Legislature did OK a vote on a sales tax to make it a toll road, but the followthrough was weak and nearly nonexistent. What we have is a case of politicians not wanting their name attached to any type of tax hike because it might harm their future in elections for whatever office. This is the “no-guts” and “I represent myself” syndrome that prevails in Jefferson City. When it comes to leadership in this issue, our elected officials are in the kindergarten class.
So in pure desperation, the highway commission has opened up the I-70-solution-finding to the world as to what to do next. It has been called a crowdsourcing approach. The door is open to any ideas. We doubt if many ideas will come from the people under the Capitol dome in Jefferson City. They are thinking about the next election that will have their names on ballots.
Stephen R. Miller, chairman of the commission, said the idea is to make I-70 a lab for the next generation of highways. It’s a “Road to Tomorrow” project that will accept input from “private industry, entrepreneurs and innovators” and there is no timeline, no budget and no real idea of where it’s headed, which is what Miller said he wanted. Why not?
The first idea that comes to mind is to lease the highway to private industry, which certainly has a better track record for getting something done than government. The legislative and executive branches probably would like the idea because they could get that transportation I-70 monkey off their backs. Yes, it would be admitting failure by our elected representatives, but they are used to that tag. It undoubtedly would be a toll road if leased and our elected officials could say it’s out of their jurisdiction when the motorists and truck companies complain.
There’s no “tongue in cheek” words when we say let private industry handle it. Might there be a government partnership with private industry? Maybe. Leave it up to private industry to determine how to pay for it, but get your money out at the toll stations. There is no other solution that can be seen on the horizon. But we aren’t totally discouraged. Who knows what ideas are lurking in the minds of the people in the world.
Missouri may become known as the “crowdsourcing state” and that would go along well with Show-Me State. It would be nice to be first in something!