Wyoming legislative panel backs I-80 toll plan

| 10/26/2009

A group of Wyoming lawmakers have given the go-ahead to plans to pursue legislation that would allow the state Department of Transportation to come up with a plan to toll Interstate 80. A fuel tax increase is also being considered.

The Joint Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Interim Committee voted 7-5 to give the Wyoming Transportation Commission the authority to become a tolling agency. In addition, WyDOT would be allowed to devise a master plan to study various tolling scenarios.

With the tolling authority, WyDOT would be able to make a formal request to the Federal Highway Administration to set up tolling booths on I-80.

Specific details of the toll plan in the legislation will not include toll rates or where tolls would be collected. The master plan, which would be presented to Wyoming lawmakers in 2011, would determine the details.

Tolling the existing highway requires approval by federal authorities, as well as passage at the Wyoming statehouse and the governor’s signature.

WyDOT officials say something must be done because Wyoming doesn’t have enough state or federal money to maintain the interstate. They say the situation will only get worse with traffic projected to double in 30 years.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association is opposed to efforts such as this to pursue tolls on existing highways built with tax dollars. The Association believes that states must come up with ways to fund highway expansion without putting an additional burden on truckers and others already paying their fair share in taxes.

OOIDA executives say that trucks already pay a state fuel tax and a federal fuel tax on every mile they run. Tolling an existing highway is double taxation.

Another revenue generator drawing consideration is a fuel tax increase. The Joint Revenue Interim Committee is expected to discuss the option during a Nov. 18 meeting.

A draft bill proposes increasing the state’s tax on diesel and gas by a dime during the next two years. Initially, the 14-cent-per-gallon tax would increase to 19 cents. It would rise to 24 cents in July 2011.

Truck driver and OOIDA Life Member Bobby Schultz of Cheyenne, WY, says states such as Wyoming cannot keep piling on fees to highway users and not expect to have consequences.

“We have enough taxes. They’re going to tax the truckers right out of work. Then I want to know what they’re going to do,” Schultz told Land Line.

Others say increasing the fuel tax is a losing battle. With more fuel-efficient vehicles and attempts to move away from traditional fuel, as well as people driving less, the fuel tax may not be able to keep up with the demands for road needs.

The tolling authority legislation is expected to be introduced in February during the budget session. It must get a two-thirds majority vote to be considered during the short session.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Wyoming in 2009, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

Editor’s Note: Please share your thoughts with us about the legislation included in this story. Comments may be sent to statelegislativedesk@ooida.com.