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Examiner
  • A 3-lane I-70?

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  • JEFFERSON CITY – Missouri highway officials are proposing to widen Interstate 70 to three lanes in each direction between suburban St. Louis and Kansas City 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 over 800 proposed projects released Friday by the Missouri Department of Transportation.
    Other major projects include additional lanes for Interstate 64 in the St. Louis area, U.S. 50 across central Missouri and U.S. 60 heading southwest from Springfield. New bridges would be built over the Missouri River at Kansas City and over the Mississippi River at the northeast Missouri town of Louisiana.
    All of the projects would be funded by proposed Constitutional Amendment 7 on the Aug. 5 ballot, which asks voters whether to impose a three-quarters cent sales tax for transportation that would last for 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. MoDOT Chief Engineer Ed 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.
    "I-70 is a worn out highway that we continually struggle to keep in shape," Hassinger 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 Stermen, 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.
    At the request of The Associated Press, the transportation department provided cost estimates for several prominent projects. Besides the cross-state I-70 expansion, that list includes $304 million to $394 million for improvements on Interstate 270 in the St. Louis area; $174 million to $225 million for I-70 improvements in the St. Louis area; and up to about $100 million each to expand U.S. 50 in central Missouri, replace the U.S. 169 Missouri River bridge in Kansas City and add lanes to Interstate 435 in the Kansas City area.
    Page 2 of 2 - 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 around the state.
    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.
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