Five questions on toll roads with Wyoming Senator Michael Von Flatern

in News/Transportation

State Sen. Michael Von Flatern, R-Gillette, is one of a number of supporters of a proposal to make Interstate 80 a toll road.

The senator expanded on his position during a recent question-and-answer session with Cowboy State Daily. 

Below is a transcript of the conversation:

Von Flatern: 

Eighty-five percent of the traffic neither stops nor originates at all in the State of Wyoming. Eighty-five percent of the traffic just passes through.


We have 410 (miles) of the toughest road in all of America to take care of and we can’t do it with our low population of 580,000 people. So if we can take that money that we spend on that highway — which is about $60 million a year that we spend on maintenance and operations on that highway — if we move that over to other roads, we can take the toll money …

We’ll take that millions of dollars and put it on there and we’ll take care of I-80 and we’ll improve I-80. We’ll get the third and fourth climbing lanes on certain hills. We’ll put in more snow fence. We’ll make this a safer, more sound road. Easier to drive, easier on the truck drivers. 

We spend $60 million now and we need an additional $40 million just to keep it in the current condition. In 10 or 15 years if we don’t toll, we will lose the current condition of the road and it will deteriorate even further and there are holes in some of those bridges you can see right now.

Cowboy State Daily:

Who pays for the toll and can Wyoming residents be exempt?

Von Flatern:

The federal government owns that road. I-80 is an Interstate project. I would tell WYDOT to find a way to exempt Wyoming residents. The only way they’ve come up with so far is every time a Wyoming registered vehicle drives through the cameras, we’ll ding the federal mineral royalties (FMRs).

We’ll ding the FMRs. They get about $60 million, $64 million to be exact every year in FMRs. So we would be paying the tolls. Although we would be paying the tolls from a different bank account.

Cowboy State Daily:

If Wyoming residents wouldn’t pay the toll, why is there opposition?

Von Flatern:

That I cannot figure. There is a constitutional issue which some have brought up. There is nothing in the constitution that says anything about letting the state toll a road. It says I can’t privately give it to you to run this toll across this ferry or run this toll on this bridge. I can’t give it to you and I can’t give it to a county. But the state can do a general bill which says we’ll do the most economical way of tolling a highway and what does that lead to?


And then we’d do a study real quick on the back of a napkin and say I-80 because it has 12,000-some vehicles per day passing any one point. They would look at that and look at I-90 and it doesn’t have enough vehicles. I-25, not enough vehicles to even pay for the tolling system. I-80 will pay for itself and it would take a back of a napkin to figure that out.

Cowboy State Daily:

If we don’t enact a toll, where will we get the money to keep our roads fixed and safe?

Von Flatern:

That will be tough. Right now, we are missing $40 million just to keep the I-80 corridor in its present condition. Highway 59, which is 110 miles you just drove yourself up from Douglas to Gillette, the oilfield is really starting to hammer that road and I don’t think they have any money other than to put another overlay on or occasionally dig an area up and work over the base.

We’re losing ground on our roads. We’re not improving them at all. Unless we toll and take I-80 out of the picture. Remember it is going to have $50 million above what it needs to operate. That’s at the lower end — 10 cents a mile toll. You’ll have $50 million dollars to replace those bridges over at Wamsutter. That’s $50 million to do lots of things on I-80 that they can’t do today because they don’t have any additional money.

Cowboy State Daily:

Why don’t we just cut spending and budget better with existing revenues?

Von Flatern:

We’re about 2008 budget (levels) now. So 10 years ago budget. They’ll talk about the expansion of the budget from 1999 to 2008 or 2009. That was catch-up time. 


We needed to implement and we had federal mandates that said we had to spend this money. We had to implement a lot of things that we were ignoring in the 90s because we didn’t have the money.

So we are clear down to 2008 budget today. And 10 years later we’re back spending the same amount of money.

We’ve skinnied down this budget to a point where our state is not going to be able to manage to cut anymore without cutting services completely and turning these roads into dirt roads.

Cowboy State Daily:

How confident are you that your legislation will pass?

Von Flatern: 

I have some opposition. There are some people who don’t understand the fact that Wyoming registered vehicles won’t pay the tolls. The (Wyoming) Trucking Association is carrying the water for the national group which doesn’t want any existing roads to be tolled because it is a tax for them. We understand that. They are non-resident and they should be paying.

We have heard that up to 12,000 cars do the damage of one loaded truck. I have heard that it is as high as 14,000. But 12,000 is the number we use today. 12,000 cars for every truck. That means they would have to pay 12,000 times what a car pays to drive across this state.

A truck does pay a couple hundred dollars more to cross the state because they have to report 410 miles. But that’s not 12,000 times what they should have paid because they do the damage to the roads. So the trucking association and I think the truck stops on I-80 are a little excited about this. But I don’t think they will see any diversion especially if we keep the tolls low enough.

We have 410 (miles) of the toughest road in all of America to take care of and we can’t do it with our low population of 580,000 people. So if we can take that money that we spend on that highway — which is about $60 million a year that we spend on maintenance and operations on that highway — if we move that over to other roads, we can take the toll money … We’ll take that millions of dollars and put it on there and we’ll take care of I-80 and we’ll improve I-80. We’ll get the third and fourth climbing lanes on certain hills. We’ll put in more snow fence. We’ll make this a safer, more sound road. Easier to drive, easier on the truck drivers. 

We spend $60 million now and we need an additional $40 million just to keep it in the current condition. In 10 or 15 years if we don’t toll, we will lose the current condition of the road and it will deteriorate even further and there are holes in some of those bridges you can see right now.

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