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Wyoming Legislation Would Add Tolls to Interstate 80

A new bill would grant the Wyoming Transportation Commission the authority to impose tolls on all lanes of over 400 miles of I-80 to fund infrastructure needs on the roadway.
January 17, 2020, 7am PST | Irvin Dawid
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Interstate 80
Kristi Blokhin

"Senate File 6 is being sponsored by the Joint Highways, Transportation and Military Affairs Committee," reports Doug Randall for KGAB News on Jan. 9. "The idea of making I-80 a toll road in Wyoming has been discussed for at least a decade, but so far no such proposal has won final approval from state lawmakers."

A shortfall in the state transportation budget prompted the committee on August 13 to narrowly endorse sponsoring a tolling proposal for Interstate 80, which was assigned a legislative file number on Dec. 10. According to  Ramsey Scott, the Wyoming Tribune Eagle's state government reporter, "Wyoming first studied the idea of tolling I-80 back in 2008 and 2009, but the Legislature shelved that study and its recommendations in 2010."

[Wyoming Department of TransportationWYDOT again studied the issue in 2017, as one of several options to make up a growing deficit in highway maintenance funding.

Committee co-chairman Sen. Michael Von Flatern, R-Gillette, has been a major proponent of tolling I-80 and said Wyoming has already spent years studying the issue. Instead, the Legislature should start to act on putting into motion a viable way to pay for infrastructure needs along I-80.

"The Wyoming Trucking Association opposes the bill and argues that truckers would simply find another route to avoid the toll," notes the source article by CDLLife.coman online initiative supportive of truck drivers.

The Wyoming Department of Transportation currently spends around $60 million per year on maintaining I-80, but they say that they need another $40 million per year to maintain the interstate infrastructure.

The article also included key parts of the legislation:

The tolled configuration will allow interstate 80 to be maintained and to be operated in a way that will reduce traffic congestion, delays, hazards, injuries and fatalities. To carry out these purposes, it is necessary to authorize the Wyoming transportation commission, with legislative oversight, to create and supervise a tolling program within the department of transportation to impose tolls...

Federal approval needed

State departments of transportation are prohibited from adding tolls to interstate highways without approval from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). From the August post:

Should the tolling legislation pass next year, WYDOT would likely apply for a waiver under the Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program to "fund needed reconstruction or rehabilitation on Interstate corridors that could not otherwise be adequately maintained or functionally improved without the collection of tolls" (per FHWA).

Pennsylvania's application to FHWA

Wyoming is not the first state to consider tolling Interstate 80, which crosses the nation from San Francisco to Teaneck, New Jersey. Over a decade ago, Pennsylvania applied to FHWA, also under the Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program to fund reconstruction, plus more spending.

"In July 2007, Governor Ed Rendell [D] signed Act 44 into law, requiring the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to provide annual payments to PennDOT to help fund projects and transit operation in every county in the state," notes the commission's webpage on the legislation.

Under Act 44, Pennsylvania made an application to the Federal Highway Administration for permission to place tolls (I-80). The Commission was to install and manage toll collection on I-80. The tolls would have funded I-80’s reconstruction and funded Commission payments to PennDOT. 

In April 2010, the FHWA declined Pennsylvania's request "because the application did not meet the federal requirement that toll revenues be used exclusively for the facility being tolled," notes the FHWA press release.

Wyoming's SF 6 explicitly requires that all toll revenues received from the project shall be deposited into a special account and that they "shall be expended only for the repayment of debt for the project."

The Wyoming legislature convenes February 10 for a budget session.

The August post also updated interstate tolling proposals in Oregon, Virginia, Wisconsin, Indiana, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.

Additional reading:

Related in Planetizen:

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Published on Tuesday, January 7, 2020 in CDLLife.com
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