Toll roads are “dead on arrival” with key Missouri lawmaker in 2020

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State Sen. Doug Libla, R-Poplar Bluff, speaks on the Missouri Senate floor in Jefferson City on January 10, 2019 (file photo courtesy of Senate photographer Harrison Sweazea)

MISSOURI (MONET) — The chairman of Missouri’s Senate Transportation Committee says toll roads are “dead on arrival” with him and are a non-starter. The opposition from State Sen. Doug Libla, R-Poplar Bluff, is significant because any toll road legislation would have to go before his committee.

Libla has looked at states that have tolls.

“You know people talk about how good Oklahoma’s roads are and the fact that they have 17-cents a gallon (state gasoline tax), which is the same as ours,” Libla says. “But what everybody leaves out, just about everywhere you drive (in Oklahoma) you have to drive on a toll road. So you still have to buy gas and pay tolls.”

Missouri voters rejected toll roads at the ballot box in 1970 and again in 1992. Chairman Libla says it’s too late to try to toll aging I-70 across Missouri.

“Interstate 70, we have lost our exemption now to toll that road from the federal government, so we can’t toll it anyway. Now you can build a new toll road.”

But Libla opposes that, saying the state owns its transportation assets. He instead has filed legislation to raise Missouri’s gas tax from 17 to 19-cents per gallon. He tells Missourinet state lawmakers can raise it on their own, adding they have a fiduciary duty to do it on their own.

His proposal, which is Senate Bill 539, would also increase the tax on diesel fuel from 17 to 23-cents per gallon. Libla’s legislation would also adjust the taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel annually for inflation.

He predicts his proposal would raise about $144 million annually for transportation. Libla also says we’ve funded roads and bridges for 95 years in Missouri with a gas tax.

While Missouri has the nation’s seventh-largest highway system with 34,000 miles of roadway, it ranks 49th in funding. Missouri’s gas tax has remained the same since 1996. It was part of a bipartisan 1992 agreement between former Governor John Ashcroft (R) and former House Speaker Bob Griffin, D-Cameron.

Missouri voters rejected a proposed ten-cent gas tax increase in November 2018. Libla says the state Department of Transportation (MoDOT) is dipping into reserves for federal matching funds. He praises the work MoDOT has done, with the resources they are given.

MoDOT has said that congestion in St. Louis and Kansas City and along Interstates 44 and 70 in Missouri is causing an annual economic loss of $575 million.

Click here to read the first story in Brian Hauswirth’s transportation series.

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