Missouri considers P3s for I-70 expansion

The Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission has been tasked with exploring tolling options for the expansion of Interstate 70.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has asked the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission (MHTC), a six-member bipartisan board that governs the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT), to analyse and provide options for using tolls to improve and expand Interstate 70 (I-70).

MHTC chairman Stephen Miller has instructed staff to prepare a report and submit it to the governor by December 31, according to a statement.

Missouri’s lawmakers had initially planned to upgrade the state’s transportation infrastructure by imposing a temporary 0.75 percent increase on state sales and use tax that would be in force for a period of 10 years.

Voters rejected the Missouri Temporary Sales Tax Increase for Transportation, Amendment 7 as the measure was known, which was included on the primary election ballot in August.

“As we have seen for the past several years, I think Missourians have a clear understanding that more resources need to be invested in our transportation infrastructure, but there just isn’t any consensus on how to pay for it,” MHTC’s chairman had said at the time, expressing his disappointment with the election results. “We need to continue working toward that end.”

Missouri has considered the public-private partnership (PPP; P3) model for the expansion of I-70 in the past. In January 2012, MoDOT released a white paper which put forward a number of arguments as to why rebuilding the highway in partnership with the private sector made sense.

Built between 1956 and 1965, I-70 was originally designed to carry 12,000 to 18,000 vehicles per day; significantly less than the 30,000 vehicles that were using it in 2011 on a daily basis. In addition, its pavement is in poor condition, while its bridges are approaching the end of their useful lives.

“And fixing it at a cost of $2 billion to $4 billion is beyond the state’s means – today and maybe forever,” MoDOT wrote in the white paper.

Missouri does have P3 enabling legislation in place. The state’s General Assembly first passed the Missouri Public-Private Partnerships Transportation Act in 2006 to allow a private partner to finance, develop, and/or operate a toll bridge between Illinois and St. Louis, Missouri. It later amended the law to allow the use of P3s for improvements in other modes of transportation in the state.