JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The largest item in the nearly $50 billion Missouri budget this year includes the long-awaited widening of Interstate 70. Work on the 200-mile stretch will start this summer.
Back in January, Gov. Mike Parson asked lawmakers to approve money to expand I-70 in Columbia and suburban areas of Kansas City and St. Louis. But during debate this past session, that plan nearly tripled.
Now that the governor has signed off on the plan, billions of dollars will be spent over the coming years to improve the major interstate.
“We’re actually kind of behind other states in the investment into the interstate system, the reconstruction and expansion of it,” Director of the Missouri Department of Transportation Patrick McKenna said. “Instead of taking 30 years and piecemealing it, let’s take advantage of this time and get the entire project done.”
It’s being called a big win for Missourians. If you drive, I-70 from outside St. Louis, to Columbia and then on to the suburbs of Kansas City, you know with two lanes, it can feel like a parking lot, but relief is on the way.
“Between the environmental work and design, that’s about a two-year window and then construction is about four to five years,” McKenna said. “You’re looking at a total of about seven years for the entire thing and we’re looking for ways where we can accelerate that.”
McKenna said this year’s budget is the largest amount of money the department has ever received, and it’s being used to make big investments like the nearly $3 billion being spent to add an extra lane on I-70 from Wentzville to Blue Springs.
“It’s really a reflection of 30 years of deferred maintenance,” McKenna said. “There’s going to be a of work going on, starting this summer, it’s just that we won’t be widening right away.”
In total, $2.8 billion was allocated in the budget for the I-70 project with $1.4 billion coming from general revenue and the other $1.4 billion from bonds. Similar to how the the state invested in the Missouri Road and Bridge Program.
“Half of the money, $1.4 billion, is actually being set in a separate fund that’s being managed by the Office of Administration, and then on transfer request, we’ve got projects going and when we’ve got expenses coming through, we can request the transfer into the road fund and then ee pay the contractor out of that,” McKenna said.
Drivers can expect to see construction in some areas by next summer, but before that, the department has to re-evaluate the environmental study that was done back in 2005.
“You have to look at current conditions, what are the current impacts, different structures have been built and there have been communities that have changed,” McKenna said.
“We don’t just go and take land; we don’t just get to knock on people’s doors and say we are coming through. We have to do rightaways and utility relocation, we have to do all the permitting and there are some environmental sensitive areas that come right up to the existing right away now.”
While crews are widening I-70, MoDOT was also given money to start surveying another major interstate.
“I-44 in its total is probably three times the size of I-70 in terms of financial scale,” McKenna said. “It’s much longer in terms of the mileage and the terrain is more challenging but it has became a really vital freight corridor.”
The governor approved $20 million for the environmental study on I-44 which will be used to find out the impacts to the communities along I-44 would be if the interstate is expanded and the cost of widening the roadway.
Another big-ticket item in the department’s budget comes after a deadly train derailment in north central Missouri last June, when an Amtrak train hit a dump truck at a crossing without gates or signals outside Mendon.
“The opportunity and really the appropriate public response to this tragedy has heightened the issue,” McKenna said. “We brought forward a very aggressive budget request that the commission wanted us to do of $50 million. We typically have $1.2 million of state resources, and we asked for $50 million. We knew it was a long shot.”
Each time someone purchases a driver’s license, they pay a 25-cent fee that goes towards railroad safety. McKenna said that fee normally generates around $1.2 million a year and the department uses that money to match federal funds, leaving MoDOT with about $7 million a year for railroad crossings.
“It’s upwards of $400,000 per crossing to update,” McKenna said. “this is a multi-hundred-million-dollar issue that we’ve been trying to solve with $7 million a year with state and federal money,” McKenna said. “We have over 1,400 public crossings with really no safety mechanism other than cross bucks and signs.”
McKenna said the department recently had a study done on all of the state’s railways to find out which crossings need to be a priority. He said MoDOT will be releasing that report later this summer.
In total, MoDOT is receiving $60 to improve railroad safety and address then 1,400 passive crossings. Of that money, there will be opportunities for counties and cities to ask for new signs at railroad crossings.
As for the construction on I-70, McKenna said it will be done in pieces instead of all at once, with the goal for the project to be complete around 2030. He is warning drivers with many orange cones expected to cover the interstate in the coming years, to slow down and consider the speed limit in the construction zone.
“We feed this information into Ways and Google maps so our construction zones are part of that, so when you put your destination and it tells you it’s going to take an hour and 15 minutes to get there, that construction zone is generally part of that,” McKenna said.
In the budget Parson approved Friday, money has also been allocated for the following items:
- $12 million for I-55 outer road improvements to support an economic development project in Jefferson County
- $21 million of federal funds for airport capital improvements
- $1.2 million to support passenger rail service between Kansas City and St. Louis
- $4.2 million for rest area improvements
- $8 million for the maintenance and improvement of the Jefferson Avenue footbridge in Springfield
- $100 million to improve low-volume roads (1,000 cars a day or less)
For more information on the I-70 project, visit MoDOT’s website.