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I70 Safety

August 27, 2001
By: Sophia Maines
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The metropolitan areas of St. Louis, Kansas City and Columbia are ranked as the most unsafe areas of Interstate 70 according to the latest study by Missouri's Transportation Department.

And in the year 2030, it will be even worse -- with Columbia's Boone County earning the distinction as the most accident-prone section of the Interstate.

The department recommends a $2.73 billion widening project on Interstate 70 to alleviate congestion and reduce the number of accidents on the major state corridor, according to a study released by the department.

With funds yet to be allocated for the project, MoDOT officials said the department wants to get a head start on the highway's construction plans.

MoDOT released the results recently of a year-long project that examines the terrain along I-70 and possible repair plans.

"MoDOT has know for some time that I-70 is an aging facility in which the volume is continuing to grow," said Robert Brendel, the department's communications manager for project development. "The department made the commitment to get the process moving even though there is no funding currently. If we waited until there was money available and then started the process, we'd be behind the eight-ball."

The number of accidents along I-70 is expected to nearly double in most counties by 2030 if no major repairs are made in the future, the study found.

This will be caused by increased congestion and further wear on the roads.

In many counties, accident rates have climbed in recent years. In St. Charles county in St. Louis, for example, the rate rose from 95 in 1993 to 127 in 1997.

"The road is in terrible condition," said Sen. Ken Jacob (D-Columbia).

Jacob blamed republican opposition to tax increases and Gov. Bob Holden's transportation plan for the poor conditions on the highway.

"I certainly think that we need to ask citizens to pay more for highways," he said. "The one major lifeline thoroughfare is I-70, and nothing is more important to commerce and enjoyment. Therefore, it ought to be first priority."

For the next two years, officials will continue to study possible construction plans for the highway, Brendel said.

Barry Orscheln, a member of the Missouri Highways Transportation Commission, spoke of the enormity of the proposed I-70 project.

"Every single overpass, underpass and bridge would have to be rebuilt," Orscheln said. "There's no money for that."

While Missouri's fuel tax of 17 cents per gallon is one of the nation's lowest, a fuel tax increase would not be enough to fund the project, Orscheln said.

The construction of toll roads coupled with increases in sales tax and license applications fees are some options that could help pay for the project, he said.