CHEYENNE — The Wyoming Legislature has danced around the idea of tolling Interstate 80 for more than a decade. In 2020, it appears lawmakers will hit the tolling dance floor.
The Joint Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Interim Committee voted 7-6 Tuesday to sponsor a bill that would clear the way for possibly charging tolls for those using the east-west thoroughfare. The bill would authorize the creation of a master plan, which is estimated to cost between $300,000 and $500,000. It also would give authority to the Wyoming Transportation Commission to place tolls and issue bonds to pay for construction on I-80.
While the proposed legislation won approval Tuesday, that slim margin is indicative of the potential struggle awaiting it in 2020. Both the Wyoming Trucking Association and the Wyoming Petroleum Marketers Association testified against the bill as an unfair burden on the transportation industry, and said it will push drivers to alternative routes and cost businesses along the I-80 corridor money.
Those six no votes on the committee weren’t sold that tolling I-80 was the best way for Wyoming to address the massive shortfall in Wyoming Department of Transportation funding.
Sen. Stephan Pappas, R-Cheyenne, said the Legislature shouldn’t be handing over tolling authority to the Transportation Commission without studying every option for generating revenue. Instead, the state should create a task force to study all options, including tolling, a user fee based on mileage or increases in registration fees, he said.
“Why spend money on a master plan I might not agree with,” Pappas said during the meeting. “I think we haven’t really studied the situation long enough to look at all our available options.”
Rep. Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne, said he was uncomfortable giving authority to toll and bond to the Transportation Commission without seeing a master plan first. While he wasn’t opposed to the idea of tolling, he wanted to see those options laid out before starting down this path.
“I’d feel more comfortable if we stripped this down to just a study,” Brown said.
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.
“We’ve studied this to death. We need to start acting on it,” Von Flatern said Tuesday.
By Ramsey Scott
Wyoming Tribune Eagle Via Wyoming News Exchange