Private toll roads approved in Utah

| Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. has signed a bill into law allowing the state to partner with private groups to build toll roads. It allows the private businesses to keep the toll revenue.

The new law, which the state’s House and Senate both approved by comfortable margins, authorizes the Utah Department of Transportation to join with private partners to finance and build toll roads.

The first likely candidate for privatization 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.

Sen. Sheldon Killpack, R-Syracuse, said his bill – SB80 – may offer the best option to complete the project, and others like it.

“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.

Opponents say it’s an unfair proposal and a form of double taxation.

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.

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