State Assembly Republicans late this week unveiled their biennial state roads budget proposal. One part of that proposal, according to legislative memos, includes a plan to ask the federal government to ease restrictions that prevent the state from implementing toll roads on major Interstate highways.
In the same proposal, Assembly Republicans call for the state to apply for enrollment in two federal pilot programs to study the costs and benefits of tolling and determine whether any major highways in Wisconsin would be suited for toll roads.
State lawmakers involved in the proposal say they’re far from writing any hard plans into the state’s 2017-19 budget to pursue toll roads in Wisconsin, and it’s not clear if the toll roads proposal will gain enough support among state lawmakers to remain part of the roads budget as talks roll out this spring.
Toll roads seem to get floated every time politicians want more money for roads. It’s kind of a “give us more money or we’ll have to create toll roads!” kind of threat. Although many states have moved to install toll roads to help pay for them, Wisconsinites are culturally opposed to them.
Personally, I don’t mind toll roads. The technology has gotten to the point of making the experience virtually painless and I generally support the notion of shifting the majority of the cost for roads to the people who use them. The gas tax is an indirect way of doing that. Toll roads are a direct way of doing the same thing. Obviously, the government still needs to have a general transportation budget to pay for necessary, but lightly traveled roads. But there are some places where toll roads are quite sensible.
What I oppose is implementing toll roads just to increase transportation spending. If the state want to make I94 between Milwaukee and Madison a toll road and lower transportation taxes accordingly, then fine. If they want to make it a toll road and just increase spending, then no thanks.