The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) received Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) approval this week of its environmental impact statement for MoDOT’s plan to add trucks-only lanes to I-70 across the state. Now MoDOT is ready to close the deal by getting Gov. Jay Nixon’s endorsement of MoDOT’s plan to use $200 million (or all) of Missouri’s allocation of federal TIGER stimulus funds to kick off construction.
But wait a minute. There are huge environmental as well as safety objections to MoDOT’s trucks-only extra lanes plan, including from the Sierra Club, which is considering legal action, and from U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, who told KCTribune:
“I have some very serious reservations about a plan that invests so significantly in more highway miles,” the Congressman and former Kansas City mayor said. “At a time when the rest of the country seems to be looking toward moving passenger cars off the road by investing in high-speed rail, Missouri seems intent on building a stretch of highway unlike any in the world.
“Rather than investing in jobs and transportation that look to a greener future, this plan essentially repeats the mistakes of the past,” Cleaver continued. “For $200 million, only a 30-mile section of this experiment will be built with no real plan to raise the additional billions needed to complete the project.
“Should, by some miracle, we be able to fund a 10-lane highway across the state, at the completion of the project we will have sunk such a huge sum into an outdated mode of transportation we will need to maintain in perpetuity,” Cleaver concluded. “This is not progress, it is regress.”
Scott Holste, Gov. Nixon’s press secretary, said he had no immediate comment on whether the Governor would sign off on MoDOT’s I-70 proposal for inclusion in the state’s application for the TIGER federal stimulus funding. The application deadline reportedly is Monday, Sept. 15.
Asked how MoDOT can justify the huge investment in the trucks-only widening of I-70, which could cost $12 billion or more when the Kansas City and St. Louis segments are included, Bob Brendel, project manager for MoDOT’s I-70 studies, said:
“Over the last 10 years, MoDOT has been studying the future needs of I-70 between Kansas City and St. Louis. It was built between 1956-1965, and is well past its original 20-year design life. Traffic continues to grow, and truck traffic is growing twice as fast as automobile traffic.
“The recently completed study of truck-only lanes for any future reconstruction of I-70 has come to the conclusion that the concept will improve safety, reduce congestion and allow for future freight-flow efficiencies that will enhance the ability of Missouri companies and farmers to compete in a global economy,” Brendel said.
“No one transportation mode can serve all the needs of freight movements,” Brendel continued. “It must be an integrated system. The public has increasingly told us of their growing uneasiness with driving in close proximity with increasing numbers of long-haul semis.
“Since 70 percent of the trucks on I-70 in Missouri travel all the way across the state,” Brendel continued, “dedicated truck lanes would separate the vast majority of trucks from other vehicles. The Record of Decision that MoDOT has recently received from the Federal Highway Administration validates that MoDOT has properly evaluated the environmental impacts of this project and could move forward with its construction if funding were available.”
Ron McLinden, a member of the Sierra Club’s Missouri Transportation Committee, had this reaction to the Federal Highway Administration’s approval of MoDOT’s I-70 Plans:
“The Sierra Club disagrees with the FHWA's approval of the supplemental environmental impact statement for truck-only lanes on I-70. Their review looked at the very narrow issue of whether the truck-only lanes could be built within a right-of-way they had previously approved. We believe the concept should have been reviewed in a broader context, and we are considering our legal options.
“The FHWA decision just gives MoDOT permission to build truck-only lanes, it doesn't say that MoDOT should do it,” McLinded continued. “Still to be decided is whether MoDOT can afford it, and whether it would be wise to do so. We think MoDOT can find a better use of the public’s money than sinking four billion dollars into this experiment -- dollars that will come out of all our pockets, whether it comes out of our ‘state pockets’ or our ‘federal pockets.’ Considering that MoDOT faces severe budgetary problems, we think they will jeopardize their credibility if they go ahead with this boondoggle.”
Missouri Sierra Club Chapter Chair Ginger Harris, of St. Louis, had some additional comments on MoDOT’s transportation stewardship:
‘The Sierra Club agrees with (U.S.) Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood that in order to reduce Global Climate Change, we need to reduce our use of fossil fuels. Therefore, the Club is disappointed that the Federal Highway Administration has OK'd MoDOT's flawed environmental study for truck-only lanes on I-70 in Missouri. But the feds have not said that it's wise to actually build them.
“Missouri is part of a four-state compact ( Kansas City to the east edge of Ohio ) to study the best design for moving traffic and freight along a ‘corridor of the future.’ This four-state compact has just begun researching what mode(s) should be promoted in this corridor. Transportation officials acknowledge a huge un-met need to move east-west rail freight without going through Chicago.
“A Kansas City-St. Louis-Indianapolis-Columbus-Wheeling rail corridor would meet that need. Kansas City is developing as a freight transfer hub, including ‘intermodal’ transfers of trucks onto rail. Because of future problems with the supply and cost of energy, because of rail’s much greater fuel efficiency compared to trucks, and because of rail’s easier convertibility to electric energy which can use solar and wind power, it makes sense to build our ‘corridor of the future’ as a rail corridor. It makes no sense to build it as a truck highway.
“However, instead of waiting for completion of the four-state corridor study, MoDOT is pressing ahead by applying for $200 million of federal TIGER Stimulus funds to build the first 30 miles as truck-only lanes right away. By doing this, MoDOT may be strategically pre-empting the outcome of the study in favor of truck-only lanes over rail, and may be setting the precedent of building these exclusive lanes with general-purpose taxes rather than user fees. The Sierra Club favors user fees for transportation so that the cost of goods and services will more accurately reflect the actual costs to our economy.
“Building four truck-only lanes and four additional shoulders across the state will create an enormous footprint of concrete and eventually asphalt. This doubling of I-70’s footprint will unnecessarily increase water run-off and local flooding, greatly increase the negative impact on wildlife, and require unnecessary additional cement and asphalt production, both of which cause serious air pollution. The ‘footprint’ of rail is far less in all respects.
“MoDOT may have selected the 30 least heavily traveled miles of I-70 (west of Columbia) for its first experiment with truck-only lanes for strategic reasons. In spite of that, this 30-mile segment will likely demonstrate the inherent danger of MoDOT’s design for truck-only lanes, as every single truck will have to cross the cars’ passing lane in order to get to and from the truck-only lanes.
“MoDOT should stop chasing this truck-lane nonsense and proceed with the six-lane concept approved by the federal government in 2001,” Ginger Harris concluded.“MoDOT should spend its resources to maintain its highways throughout the state, while it also works to improve intercity freight rail capacity, passenger rail, and energy-efficient forms of local transportation such as public transit, bicycling and walking.”