Push for Missouri toll road PPP in full swing

A campaign to green light a makeover of I-70 via a $2bn to $4bn public-private partnership has commenced, with the Missouri Department of Transportation outlining its plan to the state legislature.

The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) has begun drumming up support to create “enabling legislation” for a public-private partnership (PPP) that would remake Interstate 70 (I-70), in Missouri. 

David Nichols, chief engineer for MoDOT, told Infrastructure Investor he met Tuesday with the joint committee on transportation oversight, a Missouri state senate panel charged with examining the proposal. He said the project is expected to cost between $2 billion and $4 billion and would involve constructing a third eastbound and westbound lane along the I-70.

In addition to Nichols, Kevin Keith, director of the department, also briefed the committee. Nichols praised the panel for its receptiveness to the proposed PPP, but cited the I-70 project as a “complicated issue.

“To have the expectation to think that [the proposal] will go through the first time would be wrong,” Nichols, based in Jefferson City, Missouri, said. “But,” he added, “if it made its way to vote, then great”. The Missouri state legislative session will end in mid-May. Meanwhile, Nichols said MoDOT will work to keep the I-70 project “on the front burner”.

Nichols began working for the department in 1984 and became its chief engineer in March. The question of how to rehabilitate I-70 is a decade old, he said. “I-70 is a high-freight corridor,” he explained. “We keep resurfacing it, we smooth its veneer [but the fundamental structure is] antiquated”. Nichols pointed out the interstate highway was first built in 1956.

Using a PPP, MoDOT is endeavoring to transform a 200-mile spell of the I-70, from St. Louis to Kansas City, into a fully rebuilt toll road. Nichols recounted how, in 2005, the Federal Highway Administration named Missouri a “pilot state” for toll road conversion. He described I-70 as “our main artery” for Missouri.