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Missouri gets OK for I-70 truck-only lanes

Missouri has won federal approval to rebuild Interstate 70 across the state with lanes segregating cars from trucks.

The Federal Highway Administration’s decision gives Missouri the authorization needed to move ahead with the $4 billion project, which would be the first of its kind nationally, officials said. But money is a major hurdle.

“If we had funding today, we would start building I-70 with dedicated truck lanes,” said Pete Rahn, director of the Missouri Department of Transportation. “That’s a big if.”

The project is now eligible for federal money, a possibility because Missouri plans to seek $200 million in stimulus money to build the truck lanes on a 30-mile section of I-70 in Cooper and Saline counties.

If the state secures stimulus money, it would build the short segment to give drivers a taste of truck-only lanes while it works on lining up funding for the overall project.

The government’s decision culminates 10 years of study to determine how I-70 might be improved between Kansas City and St. Louis. Built at the advent of the interstate system more than 50 years ago, I-Ȧ has been wearing out, no longer able to meet the demand of increasing freight and passenger traffic crossing Missouri.

The new I-70 design calls for trucks in the two inside lanes in each direction, separated from cars by a grass median. A concrete barrier would separate eastbound and westbound trucks. In some places, truck drivers wanting to exit would take a ramp into the general traffic lanes so they could leave the interstate. In other cases, trucks would use interchanges just for them.

Missouri would be breaking new ground with its truck-lane concept, federal officials say. Although truck-only lanes are in limited use elsewhere, nowhere in the country is there anything like the Missouri proposal, officials said. The Missouri project could potentially be part of an 800-mile corridor stretching from Kansas City to the Ohio/West Virginia border.

Although the idea would seem popular for car drivers who must cope with the big rigs on the interstate, there is a question about whether separate truck lanes are really safer.
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