Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon is calling for state highway officials to examine the possibility of imposing tolls on parts of Interstate 70 – and to report back to him before the end of this month.
In a letter sent Tuesday, the governor told the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission that he wanted them to report by Dec. 31 on “analyzing and providing options for utilizing tolls to improve and expand I-70 and to free up resources for road and bridge projects throughout the state.”
Nixon noted that the newest parts of I-70 in Missouri “are 50 years old.”
The governor implied that tolls might be the best option to come up with the money needed to improve I-70 and help the state's economic competitiveness.
The governor’s request comes after Missouri voters overwhelmingly rejected this summer a proposed hike in the state’s sales tax to pay to rebuild parts of Interstate 70, as well as provide money for other road and bridge projects. The governor had opposed the proposal, sought by many Missouri business groups, seeing it as an inequitable way to raise money for transportation needs.
Nixon often has indicated that he sees tolls as a fairer option because the payments would be imposed on the users of I-70 – Missouri’s most heavily traveled highway and long seen in need of reconstruction and widening. Except for stretches in the urban areas, the interstate now has only two lanes in each direction through much of the state.
Talk of tolls along I-70 long has been unpopular in rural Missouri. But some officials in urban areas have been more supportive – noting that Kansas, for example, is among the states that do impose tolls on part of the interstate.
Could shift legislative focus from Ferguson
The governor’s call also appears to be a move to change the public conversation -- after months of criticism over his handling of the unrest in Ferguson.
Some Republican legislative leaders already have announced plans to hold hearings on Nixon’s actions, or lack of, on the night of Nov. 24, in the hours after the St. Louis County grand jury announced it was not indicting Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the Aug. 9 shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
Several buildings in Ferguson were set on fire, and Nixon has been blamed for failing to have enough National Guard troops in place to prevent the violence. The governor tripled the number of troops deployed in the St. Louis area, and Ferguson, for the next night.