JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The biggest project in Gov. Mike Parson’s budget request to lawmakers this year was to widen parts of Interstate 70, but that funding could be at risk.
The governor wants to spend nearly $900 million to add an extra lane on I-70 in the suburban areas of Kansas City, St. Louis and Columbia, but some representatives have other plans, like diverting that money to improve Interstate 44.
Back in January during his annual State of the State Address, Parson revealed his support of a major project, that comes with a hefty price tag.
“For years, congestion, traffic accidents and delays have become serious issues for commuters on I-70,” Parson said during his address. “We are requesting $859 million, the largest investment in decades, to wide and rebuild the I-70 corridor and take the first steps in adding a third lane across our state.”
Many lawmakers, on both sides of the aisle, followed that statement with a standing ovation, but last week, the House passed the $45.6 billion operating budget for next fiscal year without any money for the improvement.
“The chairman says he intends to address I-70 in House Bill 19, to answer your question, do we trust that? No, I don’t,” House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said.
House Budget Chairman Cody Smith, R-Carthage, said he wants to address funding for the project when representatives discuss other major construction projects. During a committee hearing Monday, not much was said about adding the funding into the budget bill until Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, asked the Missouri Department of Transportation’s (MoDOT) Director Patrick McKenna for an update.
“We’re still working off the basic construct that the governor placed in the budget which is the three-segment improvement for $859 million,” McKenna said. “We understand there are discussions in the House with regard to other regional priorities that have been identified through the unfunded needs process that the commission has in place for the department.”
McKenna was talking about how during a subcommittee for the budget, some members asked why the state isn’t focusing on I-44. Some representatives on the subcommittee wanted to take millions away from the I-70 project to be used to widen I-44 in Springfield and pay for an environmental study for the entire corridor.
“We can’t address I-44 until I-70 is addressed,” Quade said. “All of this is connected and so we should be making this a priority but yet again we are not doing it now and bucking it to the Senate for this conversation instead of doing our jobs.”
The spending plan for next year is now in the hands of the Senate, where appropriations chair Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, said he is working to add the funding back into the budget for the I-70 project, along with adding money for an environmental study for future improvements for I-44.
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This conversation comes as McKenna said the department is more than 25% over its construction program budget due to inflation.
“We are working through right now, updates to that entire plan on a project-by-project basis based on inflation and inflation, as we all know, has been severe,” McKenna said.
Under the constitution, General Assembly has until the end of the day on May 5 to get the budget to the governor’s desk