JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) Last year, the Missouri Department
of Transportation installed 63 miles of guard cables in the
grassy median of Interstate 70 to cut down on crossover collisions.
But the $11.1 million project wasn't carried out by choice.
Until Missouri outlaws open containers of alcohol in motor
vehicles, the state remains under federal order to spend 3%
of its federal road construction funds each year on traffic
safety projects. Thirteen other states are in the same position
because they, too, allow passengers to have open containers
The Missouri transportation department has lobbied for a
bill to ban open containers so it can spend all of its federal
transportation money on construction. But state Sen. Jon Dolan,
chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said he doubts
a ban will be approved until the federal government threatens
to withhold funding.
As it is, "we just have to spend it on safety, which
is a worthwhile expense, and the people in their car pools
to Mizzou games don't seem to support" a ban, Dolan said,
referring to sports fans traveling to the University of Missouri-Columbia.
The federal mandate to ban open containers has been in effect
for four years. For the first two years, states without the
bans were ordered to divert 1.5% of their federal highway
construction funds to safety projects. The level rose to 3%
two years ago.
For Missouri, the diversions amounted to slightly more than
$5 million in each of the first two years, and about $12 million
in each of the two latest years.
Rep. Cynthia Davis sponsored a bill this year that would
ban open alcohol containers in cars while still allowing passengers
to possess them in limousines, buses and recreational vehicles.
House leaders have told her the bill would be considered in
March or April at the earliest. The session adjourns in May.
Davis said the bill has not passed before because of opposition
by Anheuser-Busch, which is based in St. Louis.
"Anheuser-Busch is a very big contributor to many candidates,"
John Britton, the brewing company's lobbyist, defends Missouri's
current law. The fact that a passenger is enjoying a beer
doesn't mean the driver will drink as well, Britton says.
"I don't know what harm a passenger in the back seat
can do," he said.
Dolan also is skeptical of those who blame the lack of a
ban on Anheuser-Busch.
"It has little to do with A-B and everything to do with
the habits and the freedoms of an average Missourian who wants
to have somebody in the back of that van maybe drinking, or
somebody in the front," Dolan said.
Other states that have refused to change their laws include
Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana,
Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Tennessee, Virginia, West
Virginia and Wyoming.
Last year, Tennessee diverted about $11.9 million in federal
road construction money, Indiana about $13.5 million, Arkansas
about $7.3 million and Alaska about $5.2 million.
In January, the Indiana Senate approved a bill that would
ban open containers. Sen. Thomas Wyss, who is sponsoring the
bill, said he is not sure it will become law this year.
Wyss said Indiana lawmakers are listening to a minority of
people who want to be able to drink while ignoring the majority,
who want open alcohol containers banned.