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Toll roads off the table for 2004

March 17, 2004
By: Jonathan Moxey
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri voters shouldn't count on seeing toll roads on the ballot in November, according to top House and Senate transportation officials.

"I think it's commonly known there isn't enough support for putting toll roads on the ballot," said House Transportation Committee Chairman Larry Crawford, R-Centertown.

Under the proposed amendment, toll facilities would generate revenue for the roads and bridges where they were installed. Missourians rejected ballot initiatives for toll roads in 1970 and 1992.

"It would be counterproductive to put it on the ballot for the third time and have it fail," Crawford said.

Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Jon Dolan, R-Lake St. Louis, said lawmakers need to continue making other changes in the state's highway system before they ask voters for more money.

"We're not ready for any revenue yet except that which we can get from our current dollars," Dolan said. "The people should not have to provide any additional tax until we can get our house in order."

Ending the diversion of highway funds to non-highway agencies topped Dolan's list of plans. A proposed constitutional amendment he has sponsored to do that is currently being considered in a House committee.

"Diversion is definitely going to have to be taken care of before we ask the Missouri people to give any more of their hard-earned money," Dolan said. "We have to start working on what we're spending their current money on."

If approved, Dolan's amendment would eventually pump an additional $179 million annually toward creating and maintaining Missouri roads. The plan does not designate where money would come from to replace funds lost by other state agencies.

Crawford said the legislature needs to take a broader look at how they're funding transportation. Current regulations don't account for technological developments such as engine size and fuel efficiency. Engine size, the basis for licensing fees, has decreased since the late '60s, when fees were last increased.

"We don't have an inflation factor built into our transportation funding," Crawford said. "We need something that will live into the future."

Rep. Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, said the most important thing is to begin the discussion on funding options and to have the tolling idea heard.

"Beginning the educational process is a step forward for our transportation system in Missouri," Harris said. Harris is sponsoring a toll road amendment in the House.

Rep. Lanie Black, R-Charleston, agreed.

"You can't cram toll roads down anyone's throat without a mass attempt to educate the public about the alternatives that are out there," Black said.

Black, who sponsored a similar amendment, also said it was important to make the public aware that some members of the House and the Senate are interested in pursuing tolling as an option for generating revenue for fixing our highways.

"Missouri's highway funding is insufficient to do what needs to be done and has been insufficient for several years," Black said. "The deterioration of our highways will continue until we generate some more revenue dollars."