Von Flatern: Setting the record straight on I-80 tolling

Von Flatern: Setting the record straight on I-80 tolling

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This column intends to correct several pieces of misinformation, the first being that the bill that will be presented to the Legislature is only to allow Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT), to acquire one of three spots that the federal government has opened up for tolling an existing highway and to put the master plan together and present it again (in one or two years) to the Legislature; where we will vote to amend, pass as presented or defeat the whole idea. In other words the Legislature will see this bill again in one to two years.

A previous column on the tolling topic was incorrectly attributed to Senate President Drew Perkins, instead of to Steve Perkins, a truck stop owner and chair of the Wyoming Petroleum Marketers Association. While the names are close, it’s critical to get this right, since the perspective of who is writing an opinion piece matters when weighing the opinion as a whole.

The rest of the column is intended to shed light onto incorrect information in the previous column.

Mr. Steve Perkins is correct, road tolls are not the “silver bullet” solution to repair roads, more like the “bronze bullet”, meaning that if we can institute tolls, it will still only solve part of the problem, but would get us headed in the right direction to manage road repair and construction costs in the state. Tolling would allow the $34 million we spend annually on Interstate 80 to be redistributed to repair or reconstruct other roads in the state, like Wyoming Highway 191, Highway 30, etc.

Tolling will give I-80 the money to make major improvements to itself. Including additional climbing lanes, increasing critical snow fencing, repairing bridges to become sufficient for the traffic they now handle, offering increased assistance personnel to motorists, and in general making the road safer and smoother for the health of the traveling public (including truckers). The future of the maintenance that I-80 will require (inflation included) will exceed all the federal highway funds this state receives. There will be no remaining funds for other state roadways.

The State of Wyoming will cover the cost for registered Wyoming vehicles in the toll area, funded by federal mine royalties that WYDOT already receives ($64 million/year). A camera monitoring system will manage the tolling, which means traffic flow and speed will not be affected. The average toll collected by other states is 25 cents for a truck and .05 cents for a car per mile; which means a cost of approximately $100 for a truck and $20 for a car (truck or car not registered in Wyoming) to travel the whole distance of our state.

Contrary to the previous opinion by Steve Perkins, it is legal for the state to impose tolls. The law states that the Legislature will not make special laws (e.g. allowing an individual to reap the benefits of tolling a bridge or ferry), but since this piece of legislation allows the state (WYDOT) to decide the economic viability of tolling a highway, and I-80 is the only viable and economic one to toll, this is not special legislation, nor does it violate the constitution.

Some other reasons to implement tolls:

- Just over 85% of all traffic on I-80 neither stops nor originates in Wyoming. The segment of this highway (Interstate runs coast to coast) contains the highest average elevation (therefore the longest winter), the windiest and by most accounts, some of the most desolates sections.

— The ratio of trucks to cars is extremely disproportionate to the average interstate, with trucks being over 50% of all traffic.

— The increase in accidents has risen to over 25% in the last 15 years! This is direct result of an out-of-date and under designed highway, incapable of handling the present-day traffic, coupled with a deteriorating roadway.

— Trucks cause damage to the roads at the rate of one truck = 9,600 cars, in other words they do 70% of the damage and only pay 30% of the cost to keep our roads up in good repair and the needed upgrades to meet the expectations of the traveling public.

What this legislation requires is that WYDOT comes back to the Legislature, in one to two years, and address the where, what and how much. Where they think the cameras will be most cost-effective, how much they charge and what they will do with the extra money they receive for tolling (all must be applied to the road you toll). We must act to address our shortage of $35 to $70 million yearly, to repair or modernize our roads, for physical safety as well as fiscal responsibility.

Michael Von Flatern of Gillette has represents Senate District 24 in the Wyoming Legislature.

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