Tollroads in Wisconsin?
Posted: February 23, 2007
I have always felt that the condition of highways in Wisconsin are superior to other states throughout the Upper Midwest. Unfortunately, there is a good chance that this state will not be able to afford the roadway improvements necessary to maintain the status quo if recent calculations by state officials are anywhere near correct.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation faces a deficit of approximately $88.6 million by the end of the next year. On the other hand, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau says the shortfall could exceed $700 million in the same period of time. Obviously, there is a huge contradiction about where this state's transportation budget is heading, but it does not seem that a positive scenario is on the horizon.
Wisconsin makes most of its money for transportation improvements on the state gas tax (4th highest in the country at 32.9 cents per gallon). The state has also increased the cost of registering a vehicle, another user fee.
I grew up in Illinois. I learned at a young age how a state can make an obscene amount of money: Start making people pay to drive on your roadway. I am not proposing that we have toll roads in this area of the state. Instead, I think there should be a toll charged from the Illinois/Wisconsin border on Interstate 94 to Milwaukee and another on Interstate 90 from Beloit to Madison. I used to think this was one of my more radical ideas until I began to do some research.
Wisconsin drivers provide 43 percent of the toll road collections from out-of-state drivers in Illinois, according to a 2001 study. That is the equivalent of millions of dollars. Why not get a little payback? After all, when out-of-state residents drive along our highways, they put wear and tear on the pavement that we pay for in federal, state and local taxes.
I have read published reports that modern toll road systems can now distiguish which vehicles are owned by Wisconsin residents and those from other states. Modern technology has also made the experience of slowing down to pay a toll less cumbersome with the advent of I-Pass, a commonly-used prepaid toll program.
Governor Doyle has already told me that he would never establish a toll road system in Wisconsin while he is in office. But I will make an educated guess that there will be some type of toll road system in place in the Badger State within the next 20 years. If not, that is great for motorists. But I am still not sure how we can pay for more transportation improvements without asking users to pay their fair share.