Map Courtesy of MoDOT

The Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission (MHTC) will open a 200-mile stretch of Interstate 70, from Kansas City to St. Louis, to private industry for use as a “laboratory” for construction of future generations of highways. The Missouri Dept. of Transportation oversees “The Road to Tomorrow” project.

Since June, MHTC has received about 180 proposals from academia and business, says Tom Blair, project leader and MoDOT assistant district engineer, St. Louis. He will present the 20 most promising submissions to MHTC in December.

Blair says he and his six-person team have contacted a third of the submitters to evaluate whether their proposals have the wherewithal to proceed.

Many proposals involve energy and utilities, including solar roadways that power highway lighting, rest areas and signals. “Panels could be directly installed on roadways, incorporated into sound walls or simply sited alongside,” Blair says. Wind turbines are another possibility, he adds.

Other proposals involve trucking, including lanes for trucks only, which would require roads capable of withstanding unusually heavy wear, Blair notes. “On the other hand, dedicated lanes might accommodate even heavier vehicles,” he says. “Many fleets probably would be interested in the prospect of carrying more weight.”  

Another proposal envisions “Peleton” trucking, which allows multiple trucks to travel in a safe, tight group and gain fuel efficiencies from reduced turbulence and draft.

How some proposals might generate revenues to finance upgrades to I-70 and other state roads is an area of interest. “It’s the same question we’re asking,” says Blair. “With technology continuously evolving, are there new, innovative opportunities to help fund the next generation of transportation systems?”

Blair further acknowledges that some proposals likely would  require state funding. 

I-70 is one of several arteries in need of repair or upgrades. In 2009, a program called “Improve I-70” cited problems that strained the corridor beyond its capacity. The program also indicated that all segments of the highway would provide unacceptable levels of  service by 2030.

Although other states are evaluating new technologies to incorporate into road systems, Blair thinks Missouri is the first state to open a corridor as large as I-70 for the purpose of testing and implementing new systems and technologies.