Mo., Ill. Need New Funding for Mississippi River Bridge

Mon February 26, 2007 - Midwest Edition
CEG



ST. LOUIS (AP) A report by a panel of national transportation experts said that plans for a new Mississippi River bridge at St. Louis will go away unless a decision is made soon on how to fund the project.

The report was scheduled to be released Jan. 31 during a meeting at the East-West Gateway Council of Governments. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch obtained a copy of the report.

“Without a decision on how to proceed, and soon, the project is likely to disappear entirely,” an attachment of the report said.

Missouri and Illinois have been deadlocked for 18 months over how to fund the new bridge. The report said Illinois and Missouri must “agree to agree” on how to pay for more lanes between St. Louis and the Metro East area or risk losing the $239 million that Congress has set aside for a new crossing. It does not offer solutions.

The cost of a new eight-lane bridge is now estimated at $1.76 billion.

The report was put together by 10 experts from the transportation industry, ranging from former Federal Highway Administration officials to a policy maker who built toll roads in Orange County, Calif.

Missouri officials support a plan to pay for the bridge through toll collection; Illinois officials oppose that plan because thousands of Metro East residents commute daily to work in St. Louis.

The report does not rule out tolls, but the panel said it is “highly skeptical” about whether they could close the $460 million or more needed to start construction. The report said that with tolls, most traffic would still use the four free downtown bridges.

“I believe this report will validate what we’ve been saying all along,” said Illinois Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Collinsville. “That is, tolls aren’t going to work.”

But the report also said the chances of Missouri coming up with state funds, as Illinois leaders would like, are slim since Missouri has among the lowest state fuel taxes in the nation.

Illinois also has proposed a less expensive bridge. The panel said that version “may be sufficient to meet St. Louis’ river crossing needs,” though it has drawbacks. Among them are the two years or more it would take to get environmental permits, and the reduced congestion relief it would provide. However, moving forward with a tolling plan would take just as long.

The report suggested exploring a contribution from the business community and the creation of a regional transportation tax as alternative means of generating funding.

Regional leaders for more than two decades have talked about building a new crossing as a way to move Interstate 70 off the Poplar Street bridge.