Trucks and Tolls and Stuff
According to the Kansas City Star, Missouri has been approved to move ahead with a plan to install truck-only lanes within a new I-70 across Missouri. Now, these plans take a long time, so we shouldn’t expect to see this realized anytime soon, and perhaps it will never actually happen. MoDOT is hoping to get funding for a demonstration section of 30 miles of truck-only lanes in western Missouri.
In the long run, there is exciting potential here for both safer highways and economic growth:
[MoDOT Director Pete] Rahn said there has been talk at the national level of coming up with a dedicated funding source for so-called freight corridors, something that could boost I-70’s chances of getting money in the future.
Missouri is well positioned to take advantage of this proposed “freight corridor,” but there is not much current discussion of using tolling to pay for these truck-only lanes. The talk still centers on a general sales tax increase to fund highway improvements, which is a fairly horrible idea and serves to even further externalize the externalities of driving, to use some fancy economics lingo I got out of a book somewhere.
We have written before that the most preferred use of the stimulus money would be for infrastructure, such as transportation-related projects — sort of a “least bad”–type thing. So, I hope Missouri gets stimulus funding for the demonstration area, and I hope it works well — which I am confident it will. Beyond that, though, MoDOT should use the hard-to-get waiver it received a few years ago from the FHA to toll I-70 and pay for both road improvements and truck-only lanes with highway tolls.
There would be nothing wrong with using some tax dollars to offset in part the cost of the tolls, thereby helping to guarantee heavy use of the toll roads. This idea was suggested by Professor Ken Small in his study about private financing of highways written for the Show-Me Institute last year. However, tolling needs to be the primary way Missouri pays for its highway system, although I have no illusions that this will happen quickly or easily.