Utah panel advances bill allowing private groups to build toll roads

| Monday, February 06, 2006

A Utah Senate panel has unanimously endorsed a bill that would allow the state to partner with private groups to build toll roads.

The Senate Transportation and Public Utilities voted Thursday, Feb. 2, to advance the measure – SB80 – to the full Senate. If approved there, it would move to the House for further consideration.

Sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Killpack, R-Syracuse, the bill would give the Utah Department of Transportation permission to join with a private partner to finance and build toll roads in exchange for the private business keeping the toll revenue.

If signed into law, the first likely candidate could be the Mountain View Corridor, stretching 35 miles from Interstate 80 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 recently told The Associated Press. “It’s the difference between a toll road and no road.”

Transportation planners in the state say 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 UDOT 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.

UDOT plans to hold a public meeting March 16 to discuss tolling in the state.

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