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MoDOT Director: Toll roads only option if state wants to rebuild I-70 right now

The head of the Missouri Department of Transportation says charging tolls on Interstate 70 is the only real option for funding reconstruction of the highway, if the state wants to do something about it right now.

MoDOT Director Kevin Keith told a gathering of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and IndustryThursday that converting I-70 to a toll road could have short-term benefits, namely, job creation.

“This creates, say, middle of the road, 10,000 jobs a year for the 6 to 8 years while it’s under contract," Keith said.  "(It would return) $30 billion of economic development in our state with a rebuilt Interstate 70."

Keith says the only other likely option to pay for rebuilding I-70 would be to raise fuel taxes, but tax hikes remain unpopular among both GOP lawmakers and Democratic Governor Jay Nixon – and Keith adds that he thinks any public referendum to raise fuel taxes would be defeated by Missouri voters.

Charging tolls on I-70 would also require legislative approval. State Senator Mike Kehoe(R, Jefferson City) supports the idea, but says it won’t be an easy sell.

“I think there’s universal agreement that I-70 needs to have some repairs done, and be rebuilt, quite frankly," Kehoe said.  "We (have) just got to find a way to pay for it, (and) this is just one option to do that, but it seems like as time goes on, it seems to be the most reasonable option.”

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.