The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Wisconsin tolls a possibility

  • Gov. Doyle has left open the possibility that in several years, Wisconsin may add toll roads.

Gov. Jim Doyle has left open the possibility that in several years, some Wisconsin highways may become toll roads. The chance of creating tolls increases when the state's gas tax, 30.9 cents per gallon, proves unsustainable in terms of funding.

On Feb. 17, Doyle released a new budget proposal aimed at cutting the state's budget deficit, projected at $5.7 billion for 2009.

Tolls were not included, although $550 million was allocated for roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects, with $300 million of those pre-approved, according to a Wisconsin Politics report.

Doyle said within the next five to 15 years, the state needs to figure out how it will fund basic infrastructure needs. He said the way roads are funded, both in Wisconsin and nationwide, will have to fundamentally change.

Despite that, Doyle has said explicitly since he took office in 2003 that he "hates" toll roads and "was not working on plans to implement them."

The governor's office released a statement in response to the report that Gov. Doyle does not support toll roads, and did not include such a provision in his new budget. It continued that in time, with more fuel efficient vehicles, that the state will receive less revenue from the gas tax.

Craig Thompson, executive director of the Transportation

Development Association in Madison, said something needs to be done to address funding for the state's transportation system and there were several potential options in terms of closing the state's budget deficit, tolls included.

"Right now, Wisconsin has a real narrow revenue base and relies on gas tax more than other states, which makes us vulnerable," Thompson said. "As we begin to have cars with different power sources, this won't be a sustainable revenue source."

He said registration fees could be drastically increased, but that would quickly become prohibitive. He suggested cars on interstates with high enough volume could be charged, or cars could be charged by miles traveled as recorded by Global Positioning System technology.

If not tolls, Thompson said there were other ways of charging Wisconsin residents for the roads and surface streets.

"There could be a user fee available to fund the interstates; it would be sustainable and able to fund the needed improvements," he said. "It would be open-road tolling while going at regular speed. Some would argue it could divert more traffic onto side roads."

Kerry Thomas, interim executive director of Transit Now, an organization that supports the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail service, admitted to not being an expert on tolls, but spoke from the transit perspective on what tolls would mean for the state.

"The toll piece is interesting because it gets people to think that our freeways and roads are not free," Thomas said. "Truthfully, we subsidize all our transportation modes. We have to ask what we want to get out of the transportation, as far as connecting all people to jobs."

Thomas said the federal government is responsible for about 90 percent of costs. She said when states decide to toll, the government gets involved as it pays for most of the costs.

"That's an investment we made and that we paid into," she said. "(The government) will require you to pay back the costs. There are some challenges with tolls, but certainly some upsides. They're fairly good at supporting their transportation system, but with costs increasing, difficult for upkeep."

David Clark, an economics professor and department chair in the College of Business Administration, described tolls as something to close the gap, but the tax increase would most affect lower-income families.

"Highway tolls are certainly one way to recoup revenue, especially from people who don't live in the state," Clark said. "They are being used as a way of generating revenue; I suspect that that will further worsen our tax burden on low-income households, right at the margins of poverty."

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