CHEYENNE — The Wyoming Legislature has danced around the idea of tolling Interstate 80 for more than a decade. It looks like lawmakers will be hitting the tolling dance floor in 2020.
The Joint Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Interim Committee voted 7-6 Tuesday to sponsor a bill that would authorize the creation of a master plan, estimated to cost between $300,000 and $500,000, and would give authority to the Wyoming Transportation Commission to place tolls and issue bonds for construction on the east-west thoroughfare.
While the proposal won approval, the slim margin suggests a coming struggle. Both the Wyoming Trucking Association and the Wyoming Petroleum Marketers Association testified against the bill as an unfair burden on the transportation industry. They said it would push drivers to alternative routes and cost businesses along the I-80 corridor money.
The six dissenters weren’t sold on tolling I-80 as the best way for Wyoming to address a massive shortfall in Wyoming Department of Transportation funding.
Sen. Stephan Pappas, R-Cheyenne, said the Legislature shouldn’t hand over tolling authority to the Transportation Commission without studying every option for generating revenue. He said the state should create a task force to study all options, including a user fee based on mileage and a hike in registration fees.
Rep. Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne, said he wasn’t opposed to the idea, but he wanted to see all options laid out before starting down this path: “I’d feel more comfortable if we stripped this down to just a study.”
Committee co-chairman Sen. Michael Von Flatern, R-Gillette, a strong proponent of tolling I-80, said Wyoming has already “studied this to death.” He said the Legislature should act on putting into motion a viable way to pay for infrastructure needs along I-80.
Rep. Jerry Obermueller, R-Casper, said passing the bill wouldn’t preclude the Legislature from looking at every potential source of funding for the state’s significant transportation needs.
“In two years, we can close this down,” he said. “But if we don’t do this [now], we’ll be trapped in this cycle.”
The federal government created a pilot program in the late 1990s that allows states to toll interstates, as long as revenue generated was used only on that roadway. Several states have applied to use the program, but none had followed through and approved a toll.
Shelby Carlson, chief engineer at WYDOT, said the state spends about $60 million a year to maintain I-80 but needs another $41.5 million to keep it in its current state: “If anyone of you have driven it, you’ll know we’re not doing a good job” of maintaining it, he said.