Mississippi lawmakers to consider tolls as a new revenue source

| 9/18/2006

A bid to allow construction of toll roads in Mississippi has reared its head again.

The state’s House Transportation Committee had a public hearing last week on toll roads. The panel chairman, Bill Miles, D-Fulton, said he has requested a bill to be crafted for the 2007 session that would authorize toll roads.

Similar efforts have been debated during the past five years. Those bills were tied to specific road projects.

Officials with the Mississippi Department of Transportation said they have no immediate plans or desire to build specific toll roads, but would like to keep the door open to the revenue tool, The Sun Herald reported. State law now prohibits toll roads.

Supporters say adding tolls could allow roadwork that would otherwise not be done due to state funding issues. Opponents say toll roads would amount to an extra tax, when fuel and other taxes should cover road building, The Herald reported.

Instead, opponents say it would make more sense for local governments to join together with state and federal dollars to build roads through bond issues.

But transportation officials and others said state funding for roads has been cut to the tune of about $350 million, which has put the state years behind schedule in building new roads, The Herald reported.

Advocates for toll roads said pay-to-play routes would likely be financed and built by private companies. The private groups would keep toll revenue in exchange for upkeep.

Once such roads were paid off, they could be handed over to the state.

Supporters also say alternative routes would be made available so drivers could avoid paying the tolls.

Gov. Haley Barbour told The Herald that privatized toll roads might be a viable option.

“But we should never get into a position where a toll road is the only alternative for people to use,” he said.