JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Major updates to Interstate 70 in Missouri were announced during Gov. Mike Parson’s State of the State address on Wednesday.
In his annual address, Parson touched on education, workforce development, and infrastructure, as well as childcare. However, a big focus of the legislative request to lawmakers is to widen I-70 in both directions in suburban parts of Kansas City, St. Louis, and Columbia.
The governor said his budget request to lawmakers includes $859 million to widen and rebuild the I-70 corridor in three Missouri metropolitan areas.
Missouri Department of Transportation Director Patrick McKenna shared that the goal is to add another lane in each direction in the Kansas City, St. Louis, and Columbia areas.
The massive investment in I-70 is part of a nearly $52 billion budget proposal unveiled by Missouri’s Republican governor.
The proposal would widen the interstate to three lanes each direction for nearly 20 miles from Blue Springs to Odessa, 20 miles from Wentzville to Warrenton, and 13 miles from Midway to Route Z in mid-Missouri, Parson said.
Some of the money also would go toward streamlining the intersection of I-70 and U.S. 63 in Columbia.
The hope is to get rid of a tangle of traffic lights at the intersection of I-70 and U.S. 63 in Columbia, McKenna said. He said the traffic lights could be replaced with ramps to make switching highways smoother.
By focusing on the most congested areas, the proposal would create “a much more reliable I-70 for the next couple of decades,” McKenna explained.
The governor said I-70 is one of the most-traveled stretches of highway in Missouri, and his plan would improve travel for residents, visitors, and goods and services.
“For years, congestion, traffic accidents and delays have become serious issues for commuters on I-70. Not only are we concerned for motorist safety, these inefficiencies are costly to our state’s economy,” Parson said.
“To those who say we can’t afford it, I say we can’t afford not to. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and the time is now.”
Proposals have existed for years to widen I-70 from two to three lanes in each direction across the entire state, but Missouri has never had the money to do it. Parson’s plan would tap into the state’s historic budget surplus to accomplish a portion of that.
But it could take a few years for construction to begin because the state first may need to obtain additional land, relocate utilities and design the road, McKenna said.
This was just one of several budget requests Parson called for in his State of the State address Wednesday.
He also urged lawmakers to fully fund school transportation and the K-12 formula, provide $250 million to create an education stabilization fund, fund $78 million in child care subsidy rates for providers, and offer tax credits to businesses that provide on-site daycare.
Though Parson did not propose a mandatory pay raise for teachers, his budget would nearly double the money available for Career Ladder, a program that helps local school districts provide extra pay to teachers who take on additional responsibilities. Parson proposed to add nearly $32 million to the program’s current $37 million budget.
Higher education institutions would get a 7% funding increase under Parson’s budget plan and an additional $272 million for building projects.
He also called the state’s maternal mortality rate “embarrassing and absolutely unacceptable,” saying the state must do better. Missouri currently ranks 44th in the nation for its abnormally high maternal mortality rate.
“We are requesting $4.3 million to allow the Department of Health and Senior Services to implement a new maternal mortality plan,” Parson shared. “If we can’t get it right for the mothers and children across our state, we might as well pack our bags and let somebody else occupy our seats.”
Parson also said DHSS estimates that 75% of maternal deaths are preventable with at least one change to treatment, whether that be to the patient, the provider, or the community.
The governor also took time during his 50-minute speech to thank first responders for their quick reaction to a deadly school shooting last fall in St. Louis City.
“The events that unfolded at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School just a few months ago were nothing short of a tragedy,” Parson said. “We can look to the school safety officers and law enforcement who got it right that day. They were prepared, they had a plan, they saved lives.”
He’s asking lawmakers to fund $50 million dollars for school safety grants.
Unlike his annual address in the past, the governor received multiple standing ovations from both sides of the aisle.
“I think this is the most that we’ve ever stood up for a State of the State because I feel like quite truthfully he took a lot of the priorities that we’ve been fighting for, for so long, and wrote the budget with it,” House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said. “While we’re not going to agree on everything as we dive into it, we’re very happy with this starting point.”
Quade said this is the most Democrats have ever agreed with Parson.
“It is a shift, and it’s not just the governor’s priorities, but we’re also seeing it in some legislation being filed and quite frankly, I think a lot of that goes back to overturning of Roe,” Quade said.
The governor is also lawmakers to increase pay for state workers. Currently, there are 7,000 open positions across state government, which is why Parson said he’s asking for this request to be on his desk no later than March 1.