Utah lawmakers consider tolls to ease road funding crunch

| 8/27/2008

A crunch on funding for road work has transportation officials in Utah taking great care on their decisions for which projects to do. Tolling road users is one option drawing consideration to help ease funding concerns.

Officials with the Utah Department of Transportation say that something must be done to help pay for road work in the state because of the combination of fewer federal dollars available for states and escalating costs for road building materials.

The federal Highway Trust Fund is facing a deficit that could result in the loss of millions for states, if nothing changes. Officials with UDOT have pointed out that the state is better off than some because the agency pays for about 85 percent of its own road projects.

Another contributing factor for fewer dollars being available for road and bridge work is the increasingly high cost of construction materials. In the past decade, steel, asphalt and concrete costs have jumped by 220 percent.

To make matters worse, escalating costs for gas and diesel are resulting in fewer vehicle miles traveled, which is eating into the state’s revenue generated from fuel taxes.

One alternative that has been brought up to help ease the state’s funding gap is charging people to use roads, aka tolling.

A transportation commission created by Congress is expected to recommend to federal lawmakers next year a national policy to implement congestion pricing on the nation’s highways.

Members of the National Transportation Infrastructure Finance Commission visited officials in Utah recently to discuss the matter. Texas state Rep. Mike Krusee told Utah legislators that charging highway users for miles traveled is the best way to ensure adequate funding for maintenance, the Deseret News reported.

Legislation addressing the issue could be brought up for consideration during Utah’s 2009 regular session.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Utah in 2008, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor