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Examiner
  • I-70 upgrade could help EJC economy

  • A statewide sales tax for transportation would pay to rebuild Interstate 70 across most of the state, to the benefit of growth in Eastern Jackson County, the Missouri Department of Transportation’s top official says.

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  • A statewide sales tax for transportation would pay to rebuild Interstate 70 across most of the state, to the benefit of growth in Eastern Jackson County, the Missouri Department of Transportation’s top official says.
    “I think it would be great for the community, great for economic development for the region,” David Nichols, MoDOT’s interim director, said Thursday at a luncheon meeting in Jefferson City with a visiting group from the Independence Chamber of Commerce.
    The one-cent sales tax is making its way through the General Assembly and could be on the ballot in 2014. Nichols said MoDOT’s current funding, more than $700 million a year, is only enough for maintainance of roads and bridges but $600 million to $1 billion a year shy of what’s needed to upgrade and expand the system, not to mention other modes of transportation.
    Part of the problem is the state’s reliance on the gasoline tax, which accounts for 70 percent of MoDOT’s funding. That 17-cent-a-gallon rate, among the lowest in the county, has been unchanged in 20 years, though the costs of building and maintaining roads continue to rise. The number of miles people drive is no longer rising – it’s about flat – but cars are more fuel efficient. The result is those revenues are in decline.
    The proposed tax would raise an average of $792 million per year.
    I-70 is widely considered the most pressing of those long-term needs. Nichols said it would cost $1.5 billion to $2 billion to rebuild it and widen it to six lanes from Missouri 7 in Blue Springs east to Wentzville on the edge of the St. Louis area, making it six lanes from one end of the state to the other. The tax, which would last 10 years unless voters chose to renew it, comes with a cap on the state’s gasoline and diesel tax and a promise of no tolls on existing roads or bridges.
    Also, 10 percent of the sales-tax money would come back to cities and counties, and MoDOT overall would have more flexibility with the new money than it has with current funds, which are by law largely restricted to roads and bridges.
    “One of the things we’re hearing a lot of (in discussions with the public and local leaders) is we need more transit,” Nichols said.
    It would be important for both MoDOT and local communities to develop specific lists of projects to pursue, he said.
    “What this is, is show the voters: This is what you’ll get,” he said.
    One example – and Nichols said he was just thinking out loud – could be further improvements to Missouri 7.
    “We’ve done a little work on it. Maybe we need to do more,” he said.
     

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