Missouri’s highways ranked 11th as Senate considers $2.8 billion expansion of I-70

(The Center Square) – Missouri’s highways received high marks in new research, and the state Senate Appropriations Committee is recommending a huge investment for its east-west interstate highway.

The Reason Foundation ranked Missouri’s highway system No. 11 in the nation in overall cost-effectiveness and condition, according to its annual highway report. The state dropped eight places in the ranking, but previous rankings can’t be compared due to changes in the organization’s methods of evaluation.

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a $2.8 billion plan to widen Interstate 70 to at least three lanes in each direction from St. Louis to Kansas City. The House Budget Committee approved Missouri Republican Gov. Mike Parson’s request for $859 million for widening the interstate in the state’s two largest suburban areas and Columbia.

The larger plan has approximately $1.4 billion to be financed with bonds, costing the state approximately $132 million annually for 15 years. The remaining $1.4 billion would be paid by the state.

During end-of-week press conferences, House Democrats praised the new plan while Republicans took a wait-and-see posture.

“The Senate’s going to figure that out next week when it hits the floor and they’ll vote that out,” Speaker Dean Plocher, R-St. Louis, said. “We’ll get the product that comes back from the Senate. Then, we can better assess. Just because it came out of a committee doesn’t mean that’s the form it’s going to take.”

Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, and ranking minority member on the Budget Committee, wasn’t surprised to see the Senate create a larger plan for the highway.

“I actually like that the Senate is interested in doing the whole thing rather than just a couple of spots and really making sure that that I-70 is where it should be all the way across the state,” Merideth said. “I also appreciate that they’re looking at the possibility of bonding some of that, especially as our last bond expires. That may be a responsible move and we probably need to spend a little more time looking into it.”

The Reason Foundation gave Missouri high rankings for capital and bridge disbursements (second) and rural interstate pavement condition (ninth). It received low marks for its urban fatality rate (No. 42) and structurally deficient bridges (No. 39).

“To improve in the rankings, Missouri needs to reduce its urban fatality rate, improve its traffic congestion, and reduce its percentage of structurally deficient bridges,” Baruch Feigenbaum, lead author of the report and senior managing director of transportation policy at Reason Foundation, said in a statement. “Missouri ranks in the top 30 of all states in nine of the other categories. The state is a consistently strong performer, having finished in the top 15 states for the last six years.”

Plocher said better monitoring of funds in the Missouri Department of Transportation is necessary and hoped House Joint Resolution 37 would be passed and sent to voters. It would take financial authority away from the transportation commission and give it to the legislature.

“I would roughly say the House is adamantly in support of greater transparency on how MoDOT manages money, a lot of money,” Plocher said. “And the taxpayers need some accountability.”

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