Missourians need to have an indepth discussion on toll roads — in the Legislature, in the executive branch, among users, and the general public. Time is running out as far as addressing the conditions of our interstate highways, bridges and state roads before they deteriorate more and become more costly to repair. New construction also is needed to solve congestion conditions and failing bridges.

Gov. Jay Nixon has asked the transportation commission to consider an option to make I-70 from St. Louis to Kansas City a toll road. He requested that the commission get back to him by the end of the year with a report on making I-70 a toll highway. 

A key component of this option is that it would free up resources for other roads and bridges, such as possibly Highway 47 in Franklin County, recognized by transportation officials as a highly congested highway.

Gov. Nixon, while at East Central College in Union Wednesday, said he would wait for the report from the highway commission before making a firm commitment to work to make I-70 a toll road. He recognizes the need to improve I-70. For years transportation officials have pointed to the deteriorated condition of I-70 and the need for a third lane. It’s a safety issue.

The governor’s request opens the door for a statewide discussion on this issue. Voters in August rejected a proposed three-quarter-cent sales tax for transportation. The message from that vote is that people don’t want a sales tax hike for anything.  

Toll roads are an option that other states have used successfully. Have there been any negative results from those toll roads? We aren’t aware of any. Toll roads and bridges have given those states the resources to build highways and bridges with an attitude of “let the users pay” for the costs of new construction and maintenance. The average motorist may grumble a bit when paying a toll, but there is no denying how welcome the improvements are, especially the safety aspect.

Just a few years ago, Missouri was spending $1.3 billion annually on roads and bridges due to a surge of bond-induced revenues. That amount is expected to drop to $325 million by 2017 and remain at that level. The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) said it needs at least $485 million annually just to keep roads and bridges in good repair. Nothing is left for major new projects.

Having top notch roads and bridges is a huge plus in economic development. Missouri, especially St. Louis, needs an economic shot in the arm to bring renewed life to this region. Meeting our transportation needs would put more people to work and, remember, this has become a major safety issue. Missouri has received proversial approval from the federal government to make I-70 a toll road.

As expected, the trucking association is against toll roads yet it’s their heavy trucks that do the most damage to roads. They don’t pay their fair cost.

There aren’t many options left to obtain more resources for our roads and bridges. Tolls are a viable option.