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An Idea To Make I-70 'Smart,' But Without A Clear Road Forward

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Elle Moxley
/
KCUR
Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission Chairman Stephen Miller announces a plan for a 'road to tomorrow' to repair Interstate 70.

The Missouri Department of Transportation’s move to reimagine Interstate 70 as the “road to tomorrow” raises more questions than it answers about the state’s central transit corridor.

“We’re making Interstate 70 across the midsection of our state available to the nation and to the world as the laboratory to construct the next generation of highways,” Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission Chairman Stephen Miller announced Wednesday.

“We’re issuing a call here, now, today for private industry, entrepreneurs and innovators to bring their products and ideas to the birthplace of the interstate highway.”

Miller admits the plan right now is short on specifics, but a panel of MoDOT employees will begin hammering out the details soon.

He added that a public-private partnership doesn’t necessarily mean tolling, though says “all options are open.”

For example, Miller says freight companies might be willing to pay for a GPS subscription that allows them to run autonomous trucks down a smarter I-70.

But he bristled when a reporter asked if “subscription-based services” would essentially be tolls. Miller replied that he wouldn’t call his cell phone subscription a toll.

“We’re going to find new ways to fund transportation,” Miller said. “I don’t think that’s going to do away with the old ways people fund transportation, but it’s certainly going to help supplement and augment what we do.”

The announcement comes as MoDOT implements what it's calling a "325 plan" – the department’s budget is expected to drop to $325 million in 2017 – to scale back maintenance of local roads and bridges amidst a severe funding shortfall.

Efforts to pass a 2-cent fuel tax increase died in the legislature this year. Miller says at least a 6-cent increase is needed.

“Transportation investment is a means to an end – growing our economy, creating jobs and improving our quality of life,” Miller said. “So where do we stand today? Insufficient funding to maintain our current system. Inability to match federal funds.”

There's no budget for the committee tasked with rethinking how to pay for I-70. Miller says members of the team will have to draw on existing department resources.

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