Michigan may study whether tolls are solution to state’s awful roads

toll roads

The federal government recently expanded a pilot program for states that want to try using tolling to fix crumbling freeways. (Shutterstock image)

LANSING — The Michigan Senate approved a bill Tuesday to require the state Department of Transportation to explore the feasibility of implementing toll roads and bridges.

The bill, supported by the Department of Transportation, would direct the department to hire outside consultants to conduct a study recommending optimal tolling rates, locations and revenue projections in an 18-month project that would begin when the legislation became law. 

The vote on the legislation comes one day before Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is set to deliver her second State of the State speech, during which she’s expected to outline a new proposal to raise money to fix the state’s roads and bridges.

Last year, the Democratic governor proposed raising the gas tax by 45 cents per gallon, but the plan went nowhere in the Republican-led Legislature.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, told reporters Tuesday he believes toll roads need to be studied, and “we’re still in the mode where no option should be eliminated completely.”

“You can’t talk about funding roads for perpetuity without also including policies that cause the legislature to have to pay attention to how those things are performing,” Shirkey said of the bill package, which includes the toll road study and other transportation-related bills. “That’s what this package is about and I think it’s fantastic.”

The proposal still needs approval from the House and Whitmer.

The study would also include a report on the number of out-of-state drivers that usually use Michigan highways; which highways would be best suited for a toll; and any potential discounts or credits to decrease the impact of tolling on local drivers. 

Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, said most members of his caucus support finding out whether tolling would work for Michigan. 

Critics have long said tolls would disproportionately affect state residents since Michigan is a peninsula largely cut off from national interstate traffic. 

“A lot of us believe we should look at every option on the table and give it a full vetting,” Ananich said. “We’re not a pass-through state… so tolling isn’t always the option that people think it is, but we wanted to get a feel for that.”

Michigan already has tolls on certain bridges, including the Mackinac Bridge connecting the lower and upper peninsulas, the Blue Water Bridge between Sarnia and Port Huron and International Bridge between Sault Ste. Marie and Ontario. Several nearby states, including Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, also have widespread toll road systems. 

One obstacle to the toll plan is they usually aren’t allowed on roads built with federal funding, which include most of Michigan’s freeways. 

However, the Trump administration, like Obama before him, has expressed interest in easing those restrictions as states struggle to raise enough revenue to maintain infrastructure with fuel taxes.

The federal government recently expanded a pilot program for states that want to try using tolling to fix crumbling freeways.

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James Katakowski
Tue, 01/28/2020 - 3:59pm

Who is driving this study? I do not personally believe in toll roads. This a form of privatization and the taxpayer always lose on that. Not worth all the trouble and to say otherwise go to New Jersey. It would be complicated in Michigan as we are not set up for tolls.

Wed, 01/29/2020 - 8:26am

In IL that have tolls roads that pop up here and there, You do not know your on a toll until you get a ticket in the mail over a year later gort $60.00!!!!

Wed, 01/29/2020 - 11:37am

A couple of years ago, my daughter borrowed my care to go to a wedding in Canada. About six months later, I got a bill for a toll. The info on the bill coincided exactly with her travels but she did not recall going through and toll gates or anything like that even resemble one. It was trivial amount and I paid it immediately. I hope some Canadians benefited from a better road.

Tue, 01/28/2020 - 6:33pm

Not a huge fan of tolling but I think it might be time to consider it. It seems all other options have either been exhausted or out of reach. I guess one has to choose the lesser of two evils, tolling or a gas tax increase. I mean either way we'll be paying. I would like to see all taxes paid at the pump to towards roads. This way it wouldn't be a new tax because we are already paying it.

Wed, 01/29/2020 - 8:27am

Need to get the money back from Carlos estate, John Engler, jen GrandMold and Snyder the Snake that they stole for the state road money!!!

Paul Jordan
Wed, 01/29/2020 - 10:57am

Toll roads are a TERRIBLE idea. Michigan's expressways should be open to everyone.
The solution is raising taxes (hopefully after amending the constitution to permit a graduated income tax). That is the fair and equitable way to do it.

Wed, 01/29/2020 - 11:33am

One advantage of toll roads over a gas tax is that it would be more stable in an era of increasing gas mileage and electric vehicles. I drive a hybrid and get 30-40 mpg in the winter and 40-50 in the summer. I pay a lot less in gas tax than the SUV or pickup driver. There may be some mix if methods that would work-some gas tax, some toll, some yearly passes for frequent users (technology is getting pretty sophisticated). We also need to develop system that would be able to handle different ride sharing situations as well. I think one of the problems with the 45 cent tax was it's lack of imagination.

Le Roy G. Barnett
Wed, 01/29/2020 - 11:35am

I idea of building toll booths on Michigan's highways--and hiring people to take the fees like at the Mackinaw Bridge--is silly. It would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to construct this infrastructure at every entrance and exit along the tollroad. The only way this could be accomplished in a rational fashion is if travel on such road(s) is charged by the E-ZPass system. And never again will we be correct in referring to such lanes of traffic as "freeways."

Kevin Grand
Wed, 01/29/2020 - 12:18pm

Didn't the republicans raise not just the gas tax, but vehicle registration fees as well not more than a few years ago?

Didn't The Bridge report on the fact that 53% of us felt that Lansing had enough money already for roads?

That the problem was more with shoddy word and budget priorities?

Why this need all of a sudden for more sources of revenue?

Wed, 01/29/2020 - 1:08pm

New tolling systems are phenominal, what better way than to have people who want to use the road pay for it! If you don't like tolls you can always stay off toll roads... or are you anti-choice?

Ben W. Washburn
Wed, 01/29/2020 - 5:02pm

Matt (and Kevin Grand):
I don't ordinarily agree with much that you say, but here you make some good points.
Firstly, recent developments in automated toll collection systems make the toll road option more attractive for maintaining our long distance throughways. There's no need for toll booths. Cameras, transponder sensors, and aggressive collection efforts for offenders are working well in other places. There's also no need to sell the road to some private business which will charge an additional amount to make a nice or maybe even exorbitant profit. In most places, toll roads are operated by independent public authorities.
Secondly, as someone else has noted, toll roads like the US 80/90 through Ohio and Indiana make good sense because much of their traffic is by non-residents passing through. So, why should residents only pay for that?
Thirdly, yes, we don't get so much interstate traffic on our throughways. So, most of the cost would be borne by state residents.
But, why shouldn't all of that cost be borne by the people who actually use that throughway? (Well, there is a fairly good counter argument. (90% of the cost of most of our Interstate systems is borne from federal tax revenues which we all pay when we buy a tank of gas. And we pay that tax whether or not we ever use the Interstate system.)
Fourthly, the road funding issue is extremely complicated. In general, our Interstate roads are still in pretty good shape. It's the State and local roads that are getting worse and worse. And there is no practical way to turn but a very few of those into toll roads which necessarily have to have limited access. Once any of these roads starts to go bad, that process and the cost of fixing it accelerates. If you don't have the money to keep it in good condition, that road will require a total reconstruction which will cost three to five times as much. Basically, the only practical option is then is to return most of our roads to gravel, and lower the speed limit to 25 or 30 MPH. This is not at root a political issue. It's all of us vs. Mother Nature, and there is no chance that we can win.

Thu, 01/30/2020 - 8:50am

I agree with much you say as tolls shouldn't be seen as a money machine to fund all manner of unrelated issues or even non related road expenses, (like we've done with the gas taxes!), but instead used to primarily maintain and improve that particular road or bridge. If people see tolls as relatively small, conveniently collected and that road is in great shape I'd expect little complaining. Whether these toll are paid by residents or nons is and should be irrelevant to the issue of covering the ongoing costs of that road. But yes while covering a decent chunk of road expenditures tolls won't and shouldn't be the entire solution.

Wed, 01/29/2020 - 6:10pm

We can have the kids who can't read in third grade operate as toll booth collectors.

Wed, 01/29/2020 - 6:10pm

We can have the kids who can't read in third grade operate as toll booth collectors.

middle of the mit
Wed, 01/29/2020 - 11:52pm

Yes! Michigan is now on it's way to Michisspippi!

The people of the State refuse to pay to keep up with the cost of road building. The republicans tell us that is the cost of rules and regulations and wages that brings the costs up, while at the same time telling us that it is the State not setting strict enough rules or regulations to build roads that the private road builders build to the state standard.

Do you understand that?

Then they tell us that toll roads are the way to go, after raising license fees, registration fees and gas taxes and we still don't have enough money. Where is it all going? Prevailing wages? Union wages, right to work. That ALL got shut down. So where is it all going? It can't be going to materials because that is what republicans are telling us that the Sate (for lack of funding is allowing) and the road builders and aggregate suppliers are charging for supplies they are getting for the money that we pay them and it is all subpar. Even when most of the people on the State and county boards are former or current road builders. And if they aren't, there is some connection somewhere.

What are you republicans doing other than charging too much for the services that your workers labor for, paying them less and then charging the state more money? Get the road builders OFF the county road commissions and the State boards. Get rid of special interests and we won't need toll roads.

If Michigan gets toll roads, let the whole of the US get rid of their mail boxes and replace them with toll booths.

Toll booths at the end of every driveway! Pay yer dam way. What will you do if your neighbor can't pay? Does the road in front of their house get fixed ? Or plowed even? Imagine that rural America! NO mail! DTE just told me within the next year they are going digital billing. So it doesn't mean a thing if you don't have E-mail, does it?

I say go for it! Let's find out just how individual these individualists want to go!

First............think about it.


#VOTE Blue 4 U

jesse atwell
Fri, 01/31/2020 - 11:43am

So the taxes and fees that were supposed to be for the roads...was simply utilized elsewhere....Why?? Because the legislature and Governor's involved wanted pet projects and gov't agencies funded. Now those decisions are coming back to haunt Michigan. So now they're looking at "other sources" that might be tapped. What is there in those actions that would be any different than what's already been foisted upon taxpayers? The answer is nothing.....Any real solution has to include getting the budget back in order and under control. No one in the legislature really tells the truth about where all the money goes now.....Legislators always pat themselves on the back for ' moving the money around like the old "which shell is the pea under" game played by con artists at a carnival. The legislators have played the game far too long.now....It's time to call a halt to all the shenanigans....the money is already there....find it......

Sat, 02/01/2020 - 7:48pm

I so hate tolls. Not because of the cost, but because of the aggravation.

If you travel much in the U.S., you'll experience toll roads and bridges. If you don't have the correct electronic pass for the toll, you have to stop and pay the toll. Some unmanned toll stops will take only coins, some only bills, some only credit cards, so you have to have all three at the ready.

The electronic pass needed (transponder or a sticker on your windshield) varies from state to state, sometimes varies within a state. The automated toll systems may have bugs: e.g. they're terrific at double billing, particularly in Texas. There are folks that don't have credit or debit cards, some not even a checking account. How do they establish and replenish an automated toll account?

There is a much better and simpler solution to pay for roads: taxes.