Metro-East News

Missouri lawmaker wants to charge out-of-state drivers a toll. He wants your thoughts.

A Missouri lawmaker wants Missouri to start charging out-of-state drivers a toll, but he also doesn’t want to hurt Illinois residents who work in St. Louis.
A Missouri lawmaker wants Missouri to start charging out-of-state drivers a toll, but he also doesn’t want to hurt Illinois residents who work in St. Louis.

Online survey respondents are about evenly split on whether they want to have tolls when driving into Missouri from Illinois and other bordering states, says a state lawmaker who is gathering input before crafting legislation to raise revenue for road work.

Missouri State Rep. Jeffrey Messenger, R-Republic, is conducting an online survey to gauge which ways to raise money for road projects would be most palatable to residents.

One idea is charging a toll for motorists driving through Missouri.

“Each year, about 180 million vehicles enter Missouri on our interstates,” the survey says. “A toll would be charged only at entrances to Missouri. If possible, provisions will be made for Missouri residents who work in neighboring states.”

In an interview, Messenger said he would want to place tolls just outside of metropolitan areas so they would not affect people who commute from out of state to work.

For example, he could see a toll being set up on westbound Interstate 70 west of St. Charles. One toll could be on eastbound I-70 east of Lee’s Summit in the Kansas City area. One could be east of Joplin along I-44.

Messenger conceded there are St. Louis residents who work in Illinois and Illinois residents who work in St. Louis.

“The only reason we’re interested in (tolls) is to capture revenue from people who are from out of state who travel through our state,” Messenger said. “That would not hinder those people that were working in St. Louis from Illinois or hinder those working in Illinois from St. Louis.”

“We don’t want to hurt commerce in any way,” he added. “Conventional tolling hurts instate commerce because of people getting on and off those exits.”

According to data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau, there are more than 67,000 people who commute from St. Clair, Madison and Monroe counties to work in Missouri, but only 3,500 of those people work outside of St. Louis city and county.

Messenger estimates $3 to $5 tolls near the entrances of Missouri could bring in $500 million a year to the state for road construction. He said discussion has been taking place for 15 to 20 years on how to raise revenue for road work in the state. Tolls crossing the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge were considered before it was constructed, but the idea was ultimately nixed.

Among the other ideas asked in the survey are increasing Missouri’s 17-cent per gallon gas tax, charging a sales tax of a certain percentage on fuel, increasing motor vehicle user fees, increasing the sales tax on motor vehicle purchases, and increasing the state’s general sales tax.

About 70 percent of online respondents want to raise the gas tax, 65 percent of online people want to see user fees increased at the rate of inflation, Messenger said. Having tolls on highway entering the state was split 50-50, in the online survey.

In a paper survey, Messenger said 73 percent of respondents were in favor of user fee increases, and 30 percent were in favor of increasing the gas tax.

Messenger said he would prefer increasing user fees, such as license plate renewals, licenses, vehicle titles, tied to the rate of inflation.

“As cars get better gas mileage and more electric cars get on the road, we lose revenue,” Messenger said. “A gas tax is counterproductive in that sense, whereas indexing the user fees are more consistent and more even.”

Messenger said the survey has been up for two to three weeks and will probably be available until mid-December. He said he would use the survey results to craft legislation to be considered next year.

Joseph Bustos: 618-239-2451, @JoeBReporter