- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 3, 2015

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Facing limited funding and a cross-state highway in need of vast improvement, officials from the Missouri Department of Transportation announced a crowdsourcing approach Wednesday to get ideas on how to make a 200-mile stretch of Interstate 70 a high-tech “highway of the future.”

“We’re making Interstate 70 across the midsection of our state available to the nation, and to the world as a laboratory to construct the next generation of highways,” said Stephen R. Miller, chairman of the Missouri State Highways and Transportation Commission.

The “Road to Tomorrow” project is seeking input from “private industry, entrepreneurs and innovators” and has no timeline, no budget and no real idea of where it’s headed, which is exactly what Miller said he wants.

“We’re approaching this with no preconceived plan,” he said during the commission meeting. “Right now, we don’t want to preconceive what the future might bring for transportation.”

A 2014 MoDOT report said the cheapest option to address several problems along I-70, which links Kansas City and Missouri, was $2 billion and more significant expansions could cost up to $4 billion, out of reach for the Missouri budget.

Citing insufficient state funds to even maintain the current highway system, the recent failure of a proposed 2 percent increase in the fuel tax and “certainly no money available for projects like I-70 or any other major projects,” Miller said that “it’s time to think differently.”

“At a time when the nation and Missouri wrestle with how to fund reconstruction of our interstate system, this effort must be focused not just on new technology but new means of funding transportation,” Miller said

A half-dozen MoDOT employees also have been challenged to “get out of their comfort zones” and come up with their own ideas for highway construction and transportation that will create revenue streams, Miller said. They’ll also be responsible for vetting possible solutions brought to the department from the public and industry.

Tom Blair, a MoDOT assistant district engineer who’s part of the team, said the new transportation models could include anything from self-driving vehicles to subscription lane services.

The team, for which the MoDOT employees won’t get extra pay, hopes to be able to present some results to the state Legislature when it convenes in January 2016.

“We don’t want to sit here with our head down because we can’t get traditional transportation funding,” Blair said.

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