MoDOT will look to the State Legislature and the citizens of Missouri to determine funding sources for major improvements to I-70.
Preliminary estimates indicate as much as $3 billion in today’s dollars would be needed to widen and reconstruct I-70 between Independence and Lake St. Louis. While that’s a daunting figure, it is also somewhat deceiving. That’s because major improvements to I-70 will be made in a gradual way over the course of many years. So the question is not so much how to find three billion dollars, but rather, how best to fund the improvements over time with the money available.
MoDOT spends money each year on I-70, conducting maintenance activities and making limited improvements. In the past five years, about $87 million was spent on the rural portions of I-70, and that general level of spending will likely continue into the future. In addition to maintenance and continued resurfacing projects, in recent years motorists have seen installation of guard cable barriers in the median of I-70 to improve safety and more projects of this type are on the horizon.
But major widening and reconstruction of I-70 will require increases in state and federal funding beyond MoDOT’s current levels. And with transportation funding a moving target at both the state and federal level, it is unclear how much of the Improve I-70 program will see implementation in the coming years. Having a plan in place now, however, will ensure that any improvements made in the coming years are compatible with the long-term vision of I-70.
The Improve I-70 studies underway now are producing more detailed cost estimates, and MoDOT is developing a number of implementation strategies based on various funding scenarios. Together these efforts will determine where and to what extent major I-70 improvements could be made. Ultimately, MoDOT will implement the long term program of I-70 improvements to the extent it can afford with the funds available.
Two options that could have an impact on MoDOT's ability to advance I-70 improvements are design-build and the use of tolls. Both are being evaluated through the I-70 studies, and are explained further below.
Design-Build has been a very popular technique in the construction of buildings for many years. It now is spreading across the nation’s transportation landscape, and has recently been used with great success on some high-profile projects. To prepare for the 2002 Winter Olympics, the Utah Department of Transportation used design-build to significantly re-vamp Interstate 15 in Salt Lake City. The project was completed a year ahead of schedule. Design-build is currently being used effectively on a massive project in Denver that will expand and rebuild Interstate 25 while marrying it to a parallel light-rail transit system.
It is estimated that with design-build (and appropriate funding), I-70 improvements could be completed in as few as 10 years.
Special federal funds could also be allocated specifically for improvements to I-70 in Missouri. The next Federal Transportation Bill is expected to be reauthorized in 2003. State and federal lawmakers are being kept informed of I-70 needs (as well as others in Missouri) so that special funding might be realized.