Proposed Missouri sales tax would finance a three-lane I-70 and other projects

06/13/2014 12:42 PM

06/13/2014 9:09 PM

Missouri highway officials are proposing to widen Interstate 70 to three lanes in each direction between suburban St. Louis and the Kansas City area if voters approve a transportation sales tax on the August ballot.

The I-70 project between Wentzville and Independence is the largest item on a list of more than 800 proposed projects released Friday by the Missouri Department of Transportation.

“I-70 is a worn-out highway that we continually struggle to keep in shape,” said MoDOT chief engineer Ed Hassinger.

Other major projects include a new Broadway Bridge over the Missouri River in Kansas City and work on Interstate 435, with lane additions and bridge improvements from the Kansas line to Interstate 49.

Also included are additional lanes for Interstate 64 in the St. Louis area, U.S. 50 across central Missouri and U.S. 60 heading southwest from Springfield, plus a Mississippi River bridge at the northeast Missouri town of Louisiana.

All would be funded by the proposed Constitutional Amendment 7 on the Aug. 5 ballot, which asks voters whether to impose a three-quarter-cent sales tax for transportation that would last 10 years. The measure says it would raise $480 million annually for the state and $54 million annually for cities and counties.

State transportation officials plan to take public comments on the proposed projects through July 3, and the state Highways and Transportation Commission will vote on a final list July 9.

The project list posted on the MoDOT website Friday accounts for $4.8 billion of expenditures over the next decade.

It allots $500 million toward the estimated $1.5 billion total cost of expanding I-70 to three lanes in each direction across the state.

Hassinger said existing state and federal funding sources would cover the rest of those costs. Without the sales tax revenue, the long-discussed I-70 project probably will not go forward, he said.

While Missouri’s busiest cross-state highway may grab the headlines, the list also includes hundreds of improvements to other roads and intersections.

“A lot of it is taking care of safety, resurfacing roads around the state, replacing bridges that are really in terrible shape,” Hassinger said.

The department’s website lists only a general description of the projects with no itemization of the costs. Hassinger said that’s because “we didn’t think that’s what people are interested in.”

But some people clearly are.

Without specific costs, “you really can’t tell where the priorities are, and some of the project descriptions don’t really tell you that much,” said Les Sterman, a former executive director of the East-West Gateway Coordinating Council in the St. Louis area who now is involved in a group opposing the ballot measure.

Although much of the money would go toward roads and bridges, the proposed project list also includes money for other modes of transportation, including for work at more than a dozen airports, including Lee’s Summit Municipal Airport.

It would finance the purchase of buses in St. Joseph and public transit systems in Branson and numerous other cities; property for Mississippi River ports in Jefferson, Lincoln and Pike counties; greenway trails in St. Louis and other places; sidewalks along highways in various towns; and improvements to Amtrak train stations in Jefferson City and Kirkwood.

Bill McKenna is a former state transportation commissioner who now is treasurer for a campaign committee supporting the ballot measure. The project list includes “unsafe bridges, bad roads, critical projects and much-needed transportation services across the state that can only be met with passage of Amendment 7,” McKenna said in a written statement released by the committee.

MoDOT has scheduled several meetings next week where area residents can learn more and offer feedback:

Lee’s Summit: 4-7 p.m. Monday, Gamber Center, 4 S.E. Independence Ave.

Liberty: 2-5 p.m. Tuesday, Heritage Hall, 117 W. Kansas St.

Kansas City: 4-6 p.m. Tuesday, Union Station, 30 W. Pershing Road.

Blue Springs: 4-7 p.m. Wednesday, Vesper Hall, 400 N.W. Vesper St.

Independence: 4-7 p.m. Thursday, Truman Memorial Building, 416 W. Maple Ave.

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