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toll road

Interstate 80 Toll Road Bill Dies Quick Death

in News/Transportation
3031

If you were worried about Interstate 80 turning into a toll road, put those worries to bed.

A bill that could have eventually turned the oftentimes treacherous 403 mile stretch into a toll road was killed on Tuesday — failing to receive enough votes in the Senate for introduction.

Sen. Michael Von Flatern (R-Gillette) was the primary sponsor of the bill. Von Flatern told Cowboy State Daily in September that without tolling, the State of Wyoming won’t have adequate funds to keep roads maintained.

“We’re losing ground on our roads,” he said in September. “We’re not improving them at all. Right now, we are missing $40 million just to keep the I-80 corridor in its present condition.”

“We’ve skinnied down this budget to a point where our state is not going to be able to manage cuts anymore without cutting services completely and turning many of our roads into dirt roads,” he said.

Interview with Sen. Michael Von Flatern

Five Questions with State Representative Landon Brown on Tolling Interstate 80

in News/Transportation
2159

Wyoming State Representative Landon Brown is opposed to turning Interstate 80 into a toll road.

Cowboy State Daily sat down with him recently and discussed why he doesn’t like the idea:

Brown:

The proposal in front of us right now is what I’m not in favor of.  The proposal has been tried by six or seven other states — which is where you can use existing infrastructure and you can use existing highways that the federal government has supported building. And you can use that as a tollway.

But you have to jump through hundreds of hoops and that doesn’t make sense to me because these other six or seven states that have tried this have spent millions and millions of dollars trying to appease the federal government to do this and not a single one of them have been able to do it. They’ve all dropped out and wasted millions of dollars.

To me, it seems like an incredible waste of money to go through the same process that other states have dumped millions of dollars into and I don’t want to see Wyoming do that.

There is an option to do a toll road on I-80 and make it a tolling lane but it would cost us a billion dollars to build a new lane in each direction and the state would have to foot that bill. The federal government won’t support that whatsoever.

In a time of economic downturn in our state where we’re not seeing coal, oil, and gas revenues, we’re certainly not going to see a billion dollars of revenue to build another lane. So tolling I-80, in my opinion, is not the way forward.

Cowboy State Daily:

The Wyoming Department of Transportation says we need another $40 million per year put into maintenance and upkeep of Interstate 80. Where do we get the money if we don’t toll?

Brown:  

I think WYDOT is in a sticky situation right now. I think we’ve got way more roads than what we have money for. I think if we look and pair it down to the I-80 corridor, I do believe — especially with the amount of truck traffic that we see on a daily basis going in and out of our state — I do believe that those figures are fairly accurate.

The problem I have with that is if you pair that money away from other projects across the state, those roads are going to be getting hit for just as bad. Those are the roads that Wyoming citizens are using on a daily basis — not people who are just traveling straight through.

WYDOT has done a really good job in the past 10 – 15 years making sure that I-80 is still good for all the truck traffic coming through here but we’re also maintaining our roads throughout the rest of the state as well.

I don’t know if we have an easy way forward. I think it is going to be growing pains for all of us. But truck traffic is not going to go down anytime soon.

Cowboy State Daily:

If we don’t toll, how do we target the vehicles that do the most damage to Interstate 80?

Brown:

That’s a really good question. That’s a tough question. When you look at the Wyoming Trucking Association and the impact fees that are associated with driving a truck through the state of Wyoming as opposed to our neighboring states, we are far higher on our truck traffic for oversized loads.  Any type of those loads and fees that we charge truckers when they hit the point of entry [are higher] than our surrounding states.

The argument has always been they do way more damage to the road than the standard passenger vehicle so why aren’t they paying their fair share? I don’t know necessarily feel that they aren’t quite paying their fair share but I do think there is a better way to do it. But it’s a silver bullet that no one has found yet.

To sit there and say that these people have to — the truckers especially because they are doing anywhere from 14,000 – 16,000 times the amount of damage than the standard passenger car does, that’s where the breakdown happens. We can’t charge a trucker 14,000 times the amount of fuel taxes that we charge a standard passenger car.

We have to look at this legitimately and understand that this is not going to be an easy process to work through and we’re not going to find a silver bullet that’s going to solve every single issue that we have on our roadways.

Cowboy State Daily:

Do we need another study?

Brown:

The study, to me, I think — when we sat down at the last committee meeting — it wasn’t a study of what we’ve already studied, it was more of a where can we look at tolling as an option and what other options do we have? What are the other things we can look at for fixing our roadways?

Senator Pappas brought up the idea of doing a singular toll right in the center of the state as opposed to multiple stations. Well, that’s one option. But what about the people who go up and down I-25, there is a lot of traffic there. Should we look at charging on those as well. Should we look at charging other places?

There are quite a few other options that could look at beyond just tolling I-80 that would help bring revenue in. That’s where the study and task force — it was actually more of a task force to bring interested parties to the table. The Wyoming Trucking Association and the Contractors Association — all of these people who have a benefit with the use of I-80. Bring them to the table and see if there is another way to do this besides strictly tolling the trucks that are coming through the State of Wyoming.

Cowboy State Daily:

Could you be open to tolling?

Brown:  

I don’t think that I really am. It’s a tough question. If it came out that this study and the task force recommends and that’s the best way forward, I would need to consider it. As it stands right now, no I am not open to tolling because I don’t feel that it is the adequate way to do it.

We would spend millions of dollars on this project to get it up and running and we wouldn’t see anything until 2028. We’re talking 10 years down the road before we even see the potential of this getting approved. How much time and money are we going to waste in getting it there?

I can tell you how much we can just ask the other 6 or 7 states that have processed this. My opinion is we don’t need to go down this road. We’ve already seen these other states put millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of hours spent and it is not worth it in my opinion.

Cowboy State Daily:

Is it realistic to say that better budgeting is the answer?

Brown:

I think budgeting better is a good portion of it. But it goes back to what I said earlier, I think one of the things that we have to look at is what roads do we want to keep in the best shape possible?

Do we want to keep the roads that Wyoming citizens are using on a daily basis or the ones that we have people coming in and out of the state transferring their goods and services from one coast to the other. Do we want to keep that one as high as possible?

We do have to look at revenue enhancements. There is going to have to be some sort of — if we want to keep it as the status quo. WYDOT is telling us we are $100 million short of what we need for all of our roadways across the state. $100 million is not going to appear especially when we see coal declining over the next 10 – 20 years. And we see oil and gas being as volatile as well.

We’re going to have to figure out how to fix this and right now the federal government is looking at bringing in some additional help with our infrastructure. But when we start looking at the federal government bringing this in, we can’t count on that all the time. And it has taken us 20 years to see this infrastructure bill come to fruition.

Tolling I-80 could prevent potholes, but proposed bill has rough road ahead

in News/Transportation
Tolling I-80 could prevent potholes, but proposed bill has rough road ahead
2015

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

A toll proposed for Interstate 80 traffic could help the Wyoming Department of Transportation reduce the $41.5 million yearly funding deficit for maintaining the corridor, but not everyone is on board.

The Legislature’s Joint Transportation, Highway and Military Affairs Committee reviewed the idea of tolling I-80 during its meeting in August.

“We have up to 19,000 vehicles driving I-80 in a 24-hour period, counting both ways, mostly between Green River and Rock Springs,” said Committee Chairman Sen. Michael Von Flatern, R-Gillette. “We’re spending approximately $60 million a year on that highway.”

A 2018 Wyoming Department of Transportation study reported the department spent about $182 million on construction and maintenance for the I-80 corridor from 2016 to 2018. In order to simply maintain the highway’s current condition, WYDOT would need an additional $41.5 million annually. I-80 accounted for 62 percent of all Wyoming’s heavy truck traffic and about 20 percent of the state’s passenger vehicle traffic, the study found.

“The total funding to WYDOT from all sources has declined,” said Keith Fulton, the assistant chief engineer for WYDOT’s Engineering and Planning Division. “We’re seeing higher construction, labor and materials costs — if funding doesn’t change with those, you’re losing the strength to address those needs.”

While the details of a toll road have yet to be ironed out, Von Flatern said Wyoming residents wouldn’t pay a fee to drive I-80 under the plan examined by the committee.

“It won’t toll Wyoming-registered vehicles — it will only toll out-of-state vehicles,” he explained. “But, you can’t discriminate who you toll.”

Rather than charge vehicles registered in Wyoming, Von Flatern said the state would reimburse their owners for the toll cost, possibly with oil royalty income.

Opposition

For Sheila Foertsch, executive director of the Wyoming Trucking Association, charging only non-resident vehicles presents a problem.

“We have concerns about the current bill, because of the refund,” Foertsch said. “You must treat all trucking the same.”

In the past, the association did not oppose tolling studies proposed by Legislature or increases to registration fees and fuel tax, she said. 

“We understand there is a need,” Foertsch said. “But the State of Wyoming already receives registration fees and fuel tax. We currently have the sixth-highest registration fees in the nation. These trucks are not just traveling through scot free.”

Furthermore, she said the association thinks a toll could significantly impact local economies along the corridor.

“Truckers will often avoid a toll road at all costs,” Foertsch explained.

 Von Flatern said the tolling initiative received committee support, but only just. 

“We’re a little worried about getting two-thirds vote,” he explained. “It only passed the transportation committee 7-6.”

During budget sessions of the Legislature, such as the 2020 session, any measure not related to the state’s budget must receive a two-thirds majority vote to even be considered.

Sen. Stephan Pappas, R-Cheyenne, said he voted against the initiative, but wasn’t entirely opposed to a toll road.

“Eight years ago, it was looked at and the sentiment of the committee was, ‘We studied enough, let’s go ahead with it,’” Pappas said. “And, I’m not good with that.”

WYDOT needs the money, he said, but there are other funding avenues that could be explored.

“I’m not against the idea of tolls, but I think there are other and better ways of collecting funds that are more user friendly and easier to administer,” Pappas said. “We should look at increasing fuel tax, vehicle registration, weight fees, license fees and weight distance taxes. Everything should be on the table.”

Pappas said he is drafting a bill for the 2020 session to create a task force to look at all possibilities of revenue generation for the I-80 corridor. 

“I do understand this will be a study first, but frankly, I’m not ready to the spend the money on the study,” Pappas said. “I’d rather spend money on a task force to determine whether tolling is the best road to go down.”

Small request, big ask

Typically, when a state creates a toll on a road, it is required to pay back all the federal funding it received for that road, but Von Flatern said that wouldn’t be the case here.

The Federal Highway Administration is conducting a pilot program that could allow Wyoming to create a toll road without paying back any money, he explained. The Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program allows a state to collect tolls in order to reconstruct or rehabilitate an interstate corridor that could not otherwise be adequately maintained or functionally improved without the collection of tolls, according to the committee’s issue brief.

Up to three facilities could participate in the program, and each must be located in a different state.

“All we’re asking for now is to put our name in with the federal tolling programs,” Von Flatern said.

If approved, the process could take a decade or more to produce an actual toll road. Von Flatern said the earliest guesses put the toll road creation somewhere around 2029 if no hiccups are encountered.

This isn’t the first time Von Flatern put forth a tolling initiative. In 2010, Senate File 35 proposed granting the Wyoming Transportation Commission authority to create a tolling program. While the bill cleared the Senate, it was killed by the House Transportation Committee.

“It can keep coming back,” Von Flatern said. “We have to do something, because WYDOT is losing the battle in taking care of all our roads.”

If WYDOT does not receive additional funding for I-80 maintenance and improvement, Fulton said the highway could begin to deteriorate.

“We may have to pull more money from other places or live with a little less condition than it is now,” he explained. “We’ll always make sure the road is safe, but we might be able to plow it a little less, and it will degrade over time.”

Proposal to set toll for I-80 revived

in News/Transportation
Wyoming State Senator proposes toll on 1-80
1177

hBy Cowboy State Daily

A state legislator is proposing another attempt to set a toll for travel on Interstate 80 as a way to pay for improvements to Wyoming’s busiest interstate highway.

Sen. Michael Von Flatern, R-Gillette, is proposing the toll as a way to widen I-80 and add a third lane in each direction that could be used by cars and other passengers vehicles.

Money raised by the toll would be dedicated to improvement and maintenance of the highway. 

Under Von Flatern’s plan, tolls would be collected for all vehicles traveling the highway, but the toll of Wyoming residents would be paid from federal mineral royalties that go the Wyoming Department of Transportation. Such a plan would avoid charges of discrimination against out-of-state drivers

“If you want to toll somebody that lives in Nebraska, you have to toll somebody who lives in Wyoming,” he said. “But in this case, they will just take it out of the federal mineral royalties.”

The cost to the state in mineral royalties would not exceed the revenue collected through tolls, he added.

“Eighty percent of the traffic on I-80 does not start or stop in the state of Wyoming, other than maybe to get fuel,” he said.

Von Flatern noted that this past winter, every day saw some segment of the interstate closed because of bad weather.

But Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, said an extra lane would not solve problems caused by the weather.

“Having an extra lane doesn’t correct Mother Nature,” he said.

Bouchard said he is worried the toll could eventually be paid by Wyoming residents.

“Everything that I see, when it talks about a tax or a fee or in this case a toll, it’s framework legislation,” he said. “Meaning that once they get it in, sooner or later we’re all going to pay this toll.”

A toll would have to be approved by the Federal Highway Administration before it could be considered by the Legislature.

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