WENTZVILLE, Mo. — As the state of Missouri sits on record budget surpluses, a top priority for the governor seems to have stalled: widening Interstate 70 from St. Louis to Kansas City.
Anyone driving westbound on I-70 out of the St. Louis area may be perplexed as to why the interstate narrows from four lanes to three to two in St. Charles County, despite the fact that traffic remains heavy.
“For those who we say we can’t afford it, I say we can’t afford not to,” Gov. Mike Parson said in his State of the State speech nearly three months ago.
Still, the legislature has yet to earmark a single dollar toward the idea, with the legislative session set to end in mid-May.
“Don’t forget it’s eight years from the time we say go to get an actual project like that completed,” State Sen. Bill Eigel said.
He’s sponsoring Senate Bill 317 to spend even more on I-70 than Parson’s proposed $859 million to expand to three lanes near Wentzville, Columbia and Blue Springs.
Eigel’s bill calls for setting aside up to $1.5 billion a year of budget surpluses of more than $4 billion a year for the next 10 years in an I-70 improvement fund.
Eigel said the money would cover every remaining two-lane stretch of I-70, close to 190 miles from Wentzville to Blue Springs. It would also include a rebuild of the almost always jammed I-64/Hwy. 40/I-70 interchange in St. Charles County.
“What I call the Wentzville strangler,” Eigel said. “That’s the number 1 bottleneck in the state, which we could relieve if we undertook a major renovation project of I-70.”
Truck driver Shane Hale said other motorists would be surprised at the difference just one added lane would make.
“It’d be helpful for cars and trucks because if you’ve got three lanes and trucks always go in that third lane pretty much the whole time unless they’re passing,” Hale said. “That would leave the left lane for everyone else to pass. So it would free up a lot of traffic; a lot less accidents.”
“I think we’re going to reduce fatalities. I think we’re going to reduce traffic incidents, and we’re going to avoid the maintenance fees that we’re sustaining right now,” Eigel said.
“We have more money in Jefferson City today than we have ever had. The surpluses are bigger than they’ve ever been in all of Missouri state history. These are the kinds of big ideas I think people are asking us to do in Jefferson City.”
The idea is far from dead. Eigel said the Senate should be discussing his bill this week.