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Toll Roads: Too Far Out for Michigan?

Posted to on Thursday, December 23, 2010

INTRO: In January, Rick Snyder will be looking for extra government revenue just like Governor Granholm did for the past 8 years. Two years ago, the Michigan Transportation Funding Task Force recommended toll roads. Michigan Now’s Chris McCarus reports on what toll roads could do for the budget and how hard they would be to set up.

On December 13, the governor-elect spoke to a largely republican crowd in Lansing.

“We are going to be bold.”

Said Rick Snyder. And he said he would balance the books while keeping expectations high.

“In the first six months of this administration we’re gonna try to achieve incredible things that you would think would take years or decades.”

One thing being put forth is toll roads. Soji Adelaja is Director of the Michigan State University Land Policy Institute.

“If toll roads can improve transportation infrastructure in the state or even education, then boy they represent a value added in the hundreds of millions net.”

That could pad the $3.2 billion budget at the Michigan Department of Transportation. Overdrive Magazine ranks Michigan’s roads second worst in the country. The potholes in the roads and the budget holes are expected to get even larger next year. Professor Adelaja says tolls would help.

“Many states in the country have toll roads. And in almost all cases they’re revenue generators.”

31 states have toll roads, some, like Ohio’s, extend a couple hundred miles. Adelaja says as long as the fees aren’t too high, drivers won’t take alternate routes to avoid paying. He says the main problem is in Michiganders’ heads. Because this is the car state.

“I think the history that led us to being against toll roads is not doing anything to hurt auto sales. But we need to ask ourselves whether toll roads still stand in the way of the success of the automobile industry. This issue is not whether we should have toll roads. It’s what we use toll road revenues to do.”

In 2008, A state wide panel suggested tolls to the governor and the legislature. If they said yes we’ll do it, then roads like I-75, I-96 or US 131 could churn out profit. Tim Hoeffner is the Administrator of The Office of Project Advancement, for the Michigan Department of Transportation.

“With the technology advancements that have occurred, all electronic tolling and other ways of taking and capturing the amount that people have used the system, it’s gotten less expensive and less intrusive.”

Hoeffner says cars don’t have to slow down as much. Electronic sensors know where you get on and get off. Then they’ll bill you by credit card or pay pal.

“People are already paying their fuel tax. They’re paying their registration fees. You would be asking them to pay an additional fee. I think you have to explain what you’re going to get for that money.”

A smoother road, a wider road, a new school or maybe even a light rail line. But’s not the arrangement right now. Billionaire Matty Maroun is making more on tolls than the government.

This is the Ambassador bridge in Detroit. Maroun owns it and collects $4 for each car. He wants to build another bridge to Canada by himself. State Representative Rachida Tlaib hopes he doesn’t. She wants public toll roads so the government gets the money. Tlaib lives a few streets away.

“The idea has always been floating around for years. I think a lot of folks have been talking about this public private partnership and trying to create a mechanism to raise money for these kinds of road repairs that are needed in our state. We have really beat up roads. And also what’s been floating around is the gas tax. So there’s been a lot of talk about that. People know there’s a need there. So everything’s on the table now.”

Representative Tlaib and Governor Snyder could soon be across from each other at the table and neither will have much time or money to negotiate with.

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