Mississippi lawmakers OK use of tolls

| Monday, April 02, 2007

After a decade’s worth of unsuccessful attempts, the Mississippi Legislature has approved a bill that would create tolls along some roads and bridges in the state and give the state another tool to raise revenue.

A group of leading House and Senate lawmakers met in a conference committee last week to hammer out a deal before the regular session wrapped up Friday, March 30. The agreed-upon version of the bill now heads to Gov. Haley Barbour’s desk where it is expected to be signed into law.

The bill – SB2375 – would authorize the Mississippi Department of Transportation, county boards of supervisors and city officials to contract with private industry to construct roads and bridges and collect tolls to pay off the work. Local governments also would be allowed to use bonds to finance toll projects.

House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Miles, D-Fulton, said allowing toll roads is one of many “innovative methods” the state must use for modern road construction because fuel tax revenues are stagnant, The Sun Herald reported.

The bill doesn’t spell out specific toll charges. That would be determined by MDOT.

It also would mandate that alternative routes be available so drivers can avoid paying the tolls. Once the bonds for a project were paid off, that toll would be removed.

Officials with the Mississippi Department of Transportation have 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.

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