Wyoming lawmaker pursues tolling for Interstate 80

| 9/17/2008

A state senator in Wyoming continues to pursue tolling as a way to fund maintenance and improvements on Interstate 80 despite the federal government’s recent denial of a tolling application filed by Pennsylvania officials.

Wyoming state Sen. Michael Von Flatern, R-Gillette, began pursuing tolling on Wyoming’s portion of I-80 in 2006, but state officials have not yet filed an application with the Federal Highway Administration.

“We are waiting to see if it is economically viable and will go from there,” Von Flatern told Land Line on Tuesday, Sept. 16.

Highway users, including OOIDA, continue to oppose tolling proposals on existing interstates that have been paid for through fuel taxes and other user fees.

Von Flatern describes the need for tolls as a maintenance issue on the 410-mile interstate. He said road closures caused by bad weather could be averted if the interstate were upgraded.

“I have come to recognize we can’t fund that highway without outside help, i.e. the federal government or those that use the highway,” Von Flatern said.

“The federal government has all but admitted they have bankrupted the (Highway Trust Fund) account; hence, we are looking at tolling.”

Von Flatern said portions of I-80 were closed for a total of 30 days in the past year because of weather and maintenance issues. Closures cost the trucking industry plenty of time and money, he added.

“So if we can improve the highway to minimize the days it is closed, it will be easy to see a quick payback to those that are paying the tolls,” he said.

“The truck traffic is expected to double in the next 10 years, so with that in mind, consider that that highway was designed 50 years ago, and no one envisioned this amount of traffic.”

Mike Joyce, director of legislative affairs for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, said the drawbacks of tolling an interstate far outweigh the benefits.

“You usually see a diversion of traffic, and that means heavy vehicles on secondary roads,” Joyce told Land Line. “You see a degradation of secondary roads.”

OOIDA’s stance on interstate tolling is that it is a form of double taxation on those who have already been paying for highway upgrades and maintenance.

“Highway users, especially truckers, have contributed a large amount to both state and federal highway funds. And from what we’ve seen, a lot of those funds have been diverted to other state priorities and not directed toward their intended purpose,” Joyce said.

“We do recognize the costs of construction and maintenance have escalated in recent years at a very rapid rate, but tolling of an existing interstate is not the answer. We believe that the Federal Highway Administration sent that message loud and clear in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in rejecting Pennsylvania’s application to convert I-80 into a toll road.”

– By David Tanner, staff writer