The public got a look at what officials are calling a “high level” study that sets out future priorities for transportation improvements along a 40-mile corridor along Interstate 70 from Wentzville to the interstate’s reversible lanes in the city of St. Louis.
But while the study suggests a “vision” for I-70 up until 2045, whether that vision becomes a reality depends on whether enough money is available to pay for improvements. Right now, the money isn’t there.
“The timing [of improvements] is going to be determined by funding,” said Tom Blair, the St. Louis district engineer for the Missouri Department of Transportation [MoDOT]. “Right now, we don’t have any dedicated funds to make any major projects improvements along I-70.”
Blair was among the MoDOT officials and consultants briefing local officials and the public on the results of the I-70 Planning and Environmental Linkages or [I-70 PEL] study at a public meeting on July 18 in O’Fallon.
The July 18 meetings concerned the St. Charles County portion of the study, also called “Envision I-70.” Similar meetings were planned for July 19 at the University of Missouri-St. Louis on the St. Louis County-St. Louis City portion of the corridor.
The $1 million study, a partnership involving MoDOT and the East-West Gateway Council of Governments, began several years ago to “set a vision and strategic plan for the future of Interstate 70 corridor.”
The study sought to assess the state of the corridor, including land use and development patterns, and identify transportation needs and strategies to address them. Also included in the study is a half-mile buffer on each side of the interstate and a mile north and south of I-70 at major interchanges.
The study specifically looked at ways to increase safety, manage traffic congestion, improve freight movement and identify “deficiencies” such as bad pavement and substandard bridges. Portions of the corridor are among the first sections of the federal interstate highway system built starting in 1956.
In St. Charles County, the study divides the county into three segments – from Hwy. Z in Wentzville to Hwy. K in O’Fallon, from Hwy. K to Hwy. 94 and from Hwy. 94 to Interstate 270 in St. Louis County.
Listed in first segment are improvements to the present I-64/I-70 interchange, an I-64 auxiliary lane and Route Z intersection improvements along I-70. In the second segment, listed improvements include those at the Hwy. 79 and Salt Lick Road interchanges, an I-70 auxiliary lane near Route 370, and improvements at the Cave Spring and Zumbehl Road interchanges. From Hwy. 94 to I-270, suggested improvements involve the interchanges of Hwy. 141 and I-270 with I-70. Parallel [or service] road improvements are suggested along all the three segments within the county.
Meanwhile, Blair told those attending the public meeting, about 50 people, and public officials at an earlier meeting that MoDOT had not forgotten about correcting issues near an old railroad bridge across I-70 in Wentzville, just outside the study corridor.
The bridge limits the widening of the interstate beyond its existing two lanes in either direction. Traffic often bottlenecks on the interstate near the bridge, but a cash-strapped MoDOT has not been able to afford to move the railroad tracks and replace the bridge.
“We don’t need to study that anymore, that was studied in 2009 we just need for engineering to get the funding to actually build it,” he said.
He said nothing in the corridor study prohibits MoDOT from adding more lanes along I-70 to deal with traffic issues.
Officials said the study doesn’t address whether parallel roads should be one or two lanes or one- or two-way. Blair said he doesn’t lose sleep on these issues. Obtaining funding, however, may be different. MoDOT officials have been largely maintaining roads and bridges statewide because the state’s current gasoline tax does not provide enough money for major transportation projects.
State voters will be asked in November to approve a 10-cent increase, phased-in over a period of time, to the state’s 17-cent per gallon motor fuel tax. The funding is vital to addressing major road projects in the state, MoDOT and local officials have said.
The ballot measure came out of the Missouri General Assembly’s last session in May. If approved, the state’s fuel tax on gas and diesel would rise 2.5 cents each year starting in 2019 until topping out at 10 cents in 2022. Taxes on natural gas and propane also would rise.
State fuel tax revenue is a prime source of funding for transportation improvements by the Missouri Department of Transportation [MoDOT]. State voters rejected fuel tax increases in 2002 and 2014. The last time the gasoline tax was raised was in 1992.
If new funding is acquired, it may help the state to provide the matching funds needed to obtain federal funding for projects, including those along I-70.