Tolls for I-94 and I-90? Why not?

highwayBecause of the safety problems posed by toll booths on major highways, tolls started to fall out of favor on some of the nation’s busiest highways until technology made the shakedown easier.

Transponders linked to drivers’ accounts made it simple to automatically extract the cash. No slowing down. No danger. Easy money.

So it will be interesting to see whether more politicians will embrace tolls — user fees — for the privilege of driving through a state.

Members of Wisconsin’s Assembly seem to be warming to the idea, the Wisconsin State Journal reports.

A study from the state’s Department of Transportation said with four years of infrastructure work and about $400 million in start-up costs, turning highways into toll roads could raise up to $40 billion over 30 years.

Even better — politically — is a lot of the money would come from people who don’t live — or vote — in the state: People passing through on interstates 94, 90, 43, 41 and 39.

Under the study’s projections, a motorist would pay between as little as $2.72 or as much as $8.16 to travel from Madison to Milwaukee.

The first scenario is based on an average toll rate of 4 cents a mile; the second, an average rate of 12 cents a mile. The range of rates is comparable to other states, such as Illinois, that collect highway tolls, according to the study.

Under the same scenarios, a trip from Madison to La Crosse would cost as little as $5.16 or as much as $15.48.

The state would need permission from the federal government for the idea, but there’s a possible spot for the state in a federal test of more interstate tolling.

Between Illinois and Boston, only Pennsylvania (and the area east of Cleveland) is toll free on I-90.

If Wisconsin were to start charging tolls on the interstate, why not extend the practice right into Minnesota too, shifting more of the burden for highway upkeep to those who use them the most?

Related tolls: Bankrupt Allen couple sues NTTA for trying to collect $26,000 in tolls and fees (Dallas News)

  • Paul Weimer

    Maybe I’ve lived in Minnesota too long: I am not in favor of turning the interstates in the midwest into toll roads. I was shocked when I first visited here from the East Coast to find that the highways and bridges were NOT tolled. And I disliked having to deal with tolls on my fall drive East.

    It would alter my driving habits.

    Also, not everyone has EZ Pass transponders (something that I had to deal with on the aforementioned trip). You would have to create facilities (e.g. toll booths) for such drivers. Or worse, go through the joys of trying to bill people afterwards–which happened to me on the Tappan Zee Bridge. I got the bill two months later.

  • Rob

    For whom do the highways toll? They toll for thee.

    • John

      well done.

  • Mike

    If tolls will improve highway conditions and serve as a slight deterrent to traffic, I’m all for them. Big ifs, I suppose, but I’ve noticed there are an amazing number of people driving 45 or 50 on the freeways, and this being Minnesota a lot of them are in the left lanes. Whether they’re extra-timid or just clueless or rude I don’t know, but in any case, the experience of freeway driving in these parts is maddening.

    For comparison, a few years ago I drove in France from Paris to Normandy. The freeway was toll all the way, and it was very expensive – if memory serves, something approaching $10 US for the entire outbound trip. But the road was in excellent condition, and I saw very little of the bovine driving I see here.

    • MikeB

      Signs every few miles that say “Slow Traffic Keep Right” and “Left Lane for Passing Only” would be easier than tolls.

      • Mike

        Why not both?

    • P Gustaf

      For further comparison, I drove from the German-Belgian border to Munich, and there were no tolls. The road was also in excellent condition, and if you were in the passing lane going less than 80, you were going to have a car come up on your rear and flash its lights at you. Tolls aren’t the only way.

      • // if you were in the passing lane going less than 80

        So, same as 94.

  • Sam M

    People who don’t drive and think they won’t be paying a toll are kidding themselves. Why not just pick one vessel to tax people and ride it instead of using all these different methods and types. Oh I know because the rate would astound people if they ever actually did it.

  • Anna

    Leave it to Scott Walker to hit average Americans with more costs to go to work.

    As to I-39, there is no toll on it in Illinois except when you cross into Illinois at the border with Wisconsin. There used to be a 25 cent toll at the access exit at Cherry Valley but there was no toll attendant and you had to have exact change. Illinois finally abandoned it.

    Illinois only has tolls on stretches of highways near and in Chicago. None of the rest of their highways are tolled. The Tri-State Tollway is the major thoroughfare into Chicago and it is murder at rush hour.

    I’ve traveled the length of Illinois on my travels south to visit family in Louisiana for the holidays. I could drive it on autopilot.

    The cost of installing toll booths and technology would make the establishment of tollways cost prohibitive. We need that money in Minnesota to get our highways up to standards.

    Even if Minnesota followed Illinois’s lead and put in toll booths on the 494 and 694 and adjacent connecting highways the way people drive on the beltways around the Twin Cities, you’d have broken toll gates every other day.

    I’d rather pay a gas tax than put up with those driving headaches.

    • BJ

      >I’d rather pay a gas tax than put up with those driving headaches.

      Gas tax has the problem that we have more fuel efficient cars. Older cars are less fuel efficient and thus the gas tax would fall heavy on the people that can’t afford newer cars. Bottom line we have less tax per mile driven (more wear, less money to repair).

      Some people also think that gas tax is regressive (hits the poor disproportionately), so is the gasoline tax regressive? To a point. Working poor in cities have options, walking, biking, mass transit – that is they might not buy gas (they don’t own a car, have less cars, don’t have bulking SUVs). Those things are not possible in areas farther away from the city. So in suburban areas and rural areas it is pretty regressive, across the board.

      • Anna

        We could tack on a license tag inspection fee. Cars that don’t pass inspection (i.e. no broken light covers, working turn signals, headlights, brake lights, etc.) cannot renew their license tags.

        Unfortunately, that would hit rural farmers in Minnesota hard. Have you ever seen the condition of some of the vehicles they drive?

        Either way, gas tax and/or brake tags will hit some consumers hard.

        The money for highway maintenance has to come from somewhere. It doesn’t grow on trees.

        We made the mistake of converting the large majority of railroad tracks to bike trails. Europe never gave up its railways so you don’t need a car to get across country.

        • That’s what massachusetts does. What a scam that is.

          I think the bike trails are a great addition to Minnesota’s quality of life. And most of them were not working tracks when they were converted; they were abandoned.

          The Cannon River Railroad from Cannon Falls to Red wing was NEVER going to come back.

          • Anna

            Ever hit the Massachusetts Turnpike on the edge of Boston at rush hour?

            I did about 6 years ago when I was traveling to a travel nurse position in hospice.

            For 15 minutes I played a game of chicken with a very rude Massachusetts woman who was in the wrong lane for her exit and was going to take the side of my car off to get there.

            She kept glaring at me and I just kept glaring back.

            I’ll never drive in Boston again.

            I’ll take the 494 and the 694 any day of the week.

          • Jeff C.

            > What a scam that is.

            How so?

          • It’s a straight money grab. does nothing for safety. MA also includes emissions testing. You could be the Becker power Plant and they’d still give you the sticker. As long as you paid cash.

          • wjc

            We had emission testing here not too long ago. Well, it’s been a little while. It too was a joke.

            Apparently, the emission testing in MN ended in 1999.

        • Rob

          I miss the days when vehicles had to be routinely inspected to make sure they were road-worthy and that their emission control systems were working.

      • Also, Leaf and Bolt owners don’t pay their fair share.

      • Jeff C.

        >Older cars are less fuel efficient

        Not necessarily. My 1990 Honda CRX was more efficient than than the 2010 car I drive today and almost as efficient as a Prius. Less efficient cars are less efficient, regardless of their age. We, as consumers, have the choice to buy a efficient car or not.

        I’ll add that it is true that overall tailpipe emissions are going down over time and fuel economy is going up. https://www.epa.gov/fuel-economy/trends-report But that wasn’t the case in 2003. According to the NY Times in 2003, “Average fuel economy peaked at 22.1 miles to the gallon in the late 1980’s, according to the agency, but has eroded since then to 20.7 miles for the 2003 model year.” http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/05/business/average-us-car-is-tipping-scales-at-4000-pounds.html?_r=0

        When we pay for our annual tabs, isn’t the amount we pay partly based on the value of our car. So someone with a new Porsche is paying more each year than me with my cheap old car?

        • I can’t recall. Does tab money go into the general fund. If so, it’s a personal property tax.

          • wjc

            That is correct, sir.

  • Matt

    “shifting more of the burden for highway upkeep to those who use them the most…”

    It’s a sly, ignorant, misleading statement from those will propose such legislation. All persons who live in the state where the highway is, and even the US as a whole, “use” the interstate highway system to transport goods and services.

    We pay for it – through taxes. Those are just politically more difficult to sell and swallow.

    • If the taxes aren’t keeping up with the cost of maintaining the highway, you’re really not.

      • Will

        Yeah but the tolls in Illinois don’t seem to be helping to keep the roads in good shape. Toll roads that i’ve driven on are in really bad shape. It’s too easy to divert the income possibly?

  • ec99

    The thing about tolls is, once established, it’s easy to raise them. 30 years ago the Verrazano Bridge was $1.25, now it’s $16.

    • 30 years ago, the volume of traffic crossing the Verrazano-Narrows was less, too – about 1/3 of the volume today. Its upkeep gets more expensive each year, too, because of age (~50 years). Add in other inflationary costs. Voila!

      ‘Course, we’re paying less for gasoline today – with inflation factored in – than we were 30 years ago.

      • John

        wouldn’t three times the volume automatically mean three times the revenue, and likely three times the wear and tear on the bridge?

        • BJ

          So 3 times the wear and tear, so 3 times the amount of repairs. Expect repair price is not that same as 30 years ago. So it’s not 3 times the cost it 3 times, plus inflation (which is a measure of total economy not just bridge/street repair).

          Get your point shouldn’t the toll be something around $3.50-$4 what is the extra 12 going towards?

          • John

            I didn’t want to try to figure out inflation over 30 years, so I just left it out (lazy, I know). But yes – the extra $12 . . .what’s it for?

            (I do believe maintenance costs for roads have risen considerably faster than inflation, so perhaps it’s not as out of line as it seems, but still, I’d reckon there’s at least an extra $6 not accounted for)

          • P Gustaf

            It’s a way to make some extra money because legislators are too gutless to get it another way.

  • Back when I lived in western Massachusetts and made $125 a week doing radio news, I’d take old US 20 back east instead of the Mass Pike. Even today when I drive east, I love taking the US routes instead of the interstates, so much more interesting, and a reminder that the journey can be as fascinating as the destination.

  • Kassie

    As a bus commuter, I do not want tolls, do not want them at all! When traffic on 94 is bad, people take side roads, which makes my bus commute sometimes double. If there were tolls, even more people would move to side streets making my commute even worse.

    Edit to add: But Wisconsin can do whatever it wants. If they want to further erode the standard of living, feel free.

    • Or maybe they’d get on the bus.

      • Kassie

        Ha! Did I mention it has taken as long as 1:45 to go the 11 miles from my work to my home? When the stars align (and U of M buses run) I can do it in about 55 minutes. Most people won’t take the bus. They just don’t love reading/pokemon as much as I do.

  • BJ

    I don’t have the studies handy. I’m 99% sure that rural roads while subsidized, are not more so than those with in the 5 county metro area. There is a complex formula that pays for funding. I guess it also depends on what you called subsidized. Since the gas tax hasn’t been enough to pay for all road work, ever, every road is subsidized to some extent.

  • Anna

    You do have a valid point there, David. I believe there has been a concerted effort to install a high speed rail line from Minneapolis to Rochester.

    Since I think the Destination Medical Center is a bunch of bs, I wouldn’t vote to help people whose idea of plenty of jobs is low-paying retail and hospitality, 30,000 according to latest reports.

  • Right, but the transportation budget has nothing to do with climate change. It’s about infrastructure. You’re advocating a values-based revenue system. THAT would be a fun debate to watch at the Legislature.

    Also, it’ll be interesting to see how much toxins from discarded batteries in all-electrics make it into the environment.

    • Anna

      It hasn’t worked for healthcare but it would be an interesting debate just the same.

      Dayton would go for it but I doubt the new, Republican-controlled legislature would.

  • Mike Worcester

    The failings of the gas tax to keep up with ever-increasing costs, owing mainly to the notion that “taxes are bad!”, has definitely hurt our state (and nation’s) ability to keep up with our infrastructure needs. And yes, more efficient vehicles has not helped either.

    That being said alternatives to traditional fuel taxes have found difficult footing. One idea for Minnesota was to charge a per-mile-traveled fee. Former state rep. Bernie Leider, a highway engineer by trade, first pitched this idea over twenty years ago. Unfortunately, technology and the spectre of the start-up costs have kept it from becoming a reality.

    Me personally, I’d prefer not to see tolls as they are too easy a substitute for real political leadership on the issue of gas taxes and infrastructure investment.

  • Jeff C.

    One more note – Cars are getting heavier every year, which puts more wear-and-tear on the roads. http://www.slate.com/articles/business/moneybox/2011/06/your_big_car_is_killing_me.html

  • Bob Sinclair

    One note in this discussion that has not been mentioned: Where would the funds collected be distributed? In Illinois the tolls collected are designated strictly for maintenance and capital improvements for the roads the tolls are collected on.

    • That’s how it used to work in Mass, too. The funds when to the Mass Turnpike Authority, originally to pay off the bonds to build the highway in the first place.

  • right, I’m talking about the NiMH or lithium-ion that are in the “environmentally friendly” cars.

  • Tyler

    Yeah, but shouldn’t WE be paid to drive through Nebraska?