The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Opinion

March 12, 2008

In our view: Truck-lane toll roads worth study

Missouri motorists understand the value of safe roads. They also know that highway maintenance is a never-ending proposition. But they aren’t likely to buy into any big-dollar road program that adds nickels and dimes to motor-fuel taxes and then pours part of that new revenue into alternative forms of transportation, such as airports, light rail or mass transit. As for turning some existing highways into toll roads, well, forget it. Voters have shot down the toll-road plans by overwhelming margins.

But here is a toll plan that ought to be included in the discussion the next time legislators talk about long-term highway solutions: a public-private partnership to build toll roads for big trucks. Those four-lane routes would parallel interstates 44 and 70 and perhaps even U.S. 71, which one day will be folded into the interstate system.

The public-private partnership approach, which is being touted as a viable option for improving the state’s infrastructure by such think tanks as the Show-Me Institute and the Reason Foundation, would require that the state award long-term lease agreements to private enterprise. The company then would finance, design, build, operate, improve and maintain the routes.

As the Show-Me Institute, which has headquarters in St. Louis, notes: The state “still owns the roadway and protects the public interest through negotiating and enforcing the terms of the concession contract.”

So, what would state motorists get out of such an arrangement? First, thousands of big rigs would no longer be using the interstates. That would make travel safer for cars. Also, removing those trucks from the interstates should reduce the wear and tear on highway surfaces and perhaps reduce maintenance costs. The tolls would apply solely to the trucks.

The benefits for truckers might be, say, higher speed limits and larger load limits. Those issues and others, such as caps on tolls, would be negotiated between the state and the operators.

Would such a plan work in Missouri? It clearly is worth investigating by lawmakers.

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