Posted: May 16, 2014
About four years ago, I wrote an editorial advocating the thought that state lawmakers should strongly consider adding a tollway system in Wisconsin. With the state facing the serious challenge of finding long-term sustainable funding for its transportation infrastructure, I thought it would be prudent for the Legislature to implement a toll system whereby out-of-state motorists would be charged to use Wisconsin's beautiful interstate highway system and state-licensed drivers could somehow avoid being charged given today's technological advances.
However, I have come to the conclusion that placing tolls on existing non-tolled federal interstate highways have far greater negative consequences than any perceived benefits. The Obama Administration is proposing to collect tolls on interstate highways to raise revenue for roadway repairs. States such as Virginia and North Carolina recently received approval from the federal government to move forward with tolls on Interstate 95 in their states.
Some could argue that tolls on existing interstate highways is double taxation. Anyone who drives on Wisconsin's roadways have already paid the federal gas tax. So, to place another toll to travel those highways would be forcing users to pay two taxes for use of a single roadway.
Another concern that I had not thought of four years ago is that many motorists will avoid toll roads whenever possible. As a result, traffic diversion hurts the economy by forcing travelers to bypass truck stops, gas stations, restaurants and motels that rely on interstate users for revenue. Plus, those secondary and local roads that were not constructed to handle increased traffic volume would soon need repair. And, for those who stay on the tollways, traffic congestion would soon become an issue that Wisconsinites have not had to deal with.
Although I'm not a paranoid person by nature, some who feel that government intrudes on our private space too much, would probably be spooked that radio frequency chips or bar codes that go through toll booths to withdraw funds from a private bank account would give government the ability to know where we are at all times.
Lastly, if lawmakers don't want to raise the Wisconsin gas tax, which is already the fourth highest in the nation (32.9 cents per gallon), then they will have to find another creative way to fund road improvements. Spending millions of dollars on consultants to conduct studies about the implementation of tollways on our interstate system doesn't seem like a good use of taxpayer dollars.