Utah bill would allow private groups to build toll roads

| Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Months after the Utah Legislature authorized the state’s transportation department to consider tolls as an option for new roads, a state lawmaker wants the state to partner with private groups to build toll roads.

Sen. Sheldon Killpack, R-Syracuse, is drafting a bill that would allow a private partner to finance and build the road in exchange for keeping the revenue generated.

If approved, the first likely candidate could be the Mountain View Corridor, stretching 35 miles from the Salt Lake City International Airport to Pleasant Grove. At this point, funding the road remains the biggest obstacle to its completion.

“If we want to see the Mountain View Corridor anytime sooner than perhaps 20 years down the road, this certainly becomes a much more interesting option,” Killpack told The Associated Press. “It’s the difference between a toll road and no road.”

State transportation officials said Utah would need $16.5 billion during the next 25 years to keep up with business and traffic demands.

Toll road supporters say the state’s 24.5-cent-per-gallon tax on gasoline and diesel is losing its buying power. Increasing the motor fuels tax has been suggested but is not considered a viable option. Additionally, federal funding for highways doesn’t fill the void.

Killpack’s plan still would require public funds because toll revenue isn’t expected to provide enough bonding capacity to cover a project’s full cost, The AP reported.

The controlling contract would put the Utah Department of Transportation in charge of determining the toll rate, when to increase it and what the cap would be, Killpack said. The length of the contract would be determined on a case-by-case basis.

The state would retain a buy-out option and the Legislature would have final bid approval.

Killpack’s effort is expected to come up for consideration in the legislative session that begins this month.

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