Debating Toll Roads In Michigan

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As you drive around the state, it's clear the roads could use some help, and many of them could use a lot of help.

While gas taxes and increased registration fees have been discussed as ways to increase tax revenue, tolls roads have made fewer headlines.

"When the Federal Highway and Transportation Act was passed back under the Eisenhower administration we made the choice to say we'll have highways and not toll roads. There are ways to deal with that though. We could work with our congressional delegation. I know some states have had that waived," said Jim Holcomb the Senior Vice President of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

The Michigan Chamber of Commerce recognizes that toll roads might not be a silver bullet, but says they should be considered.

"If we don't spend money now just on general maintenance and up-keep those roads deteriorate and it costs us six times more to fix them later on," said Holcomb. "I don't think you'll ever find a voter out there who jumps up and down and says please charge me more, take more in tax dollars to fund a government project, but infrastructure is a crucial element of the governments operations and we need to make sure we are investing in Michigan."

Republicans in the House say toll roads are too costly because if Michigan went that route, the state would have to return federal money already used to build and maintain the roads.

"There's [also] been a lot of concern over the years about whether we should have toll roads in Michigan and if the people that live here and the people that come to visit would accept that," said Ari Adler, the Press Secretary for Speaker Bolger.

While democrats are open to the idea of toll roads, they also have serious concerns.

"We need to be very careful about avoiding any additional tax and fee increases that would unduly burden middle class and working poor families in our state," said Rep. Tim Greimel the House minority leader.

Many folks feel they are already taxed enough.

"No I don't like toll roads, I think we need to cut some other programs to come up with the money," said Jeff O'Bryant who was at the market at the Capitol Thursday.

"I don't particularly like toll roads because to me a road is a public good and should be consumed by everyone, not just those that can afford the toll," said Christian Scott, who was also at the market.

This year the only additional money put toward repairing the roads comes without an increase in taxes. The legislature gave MDOT $350 "more" dollars this coming budget, which starts October 1st.

While the legislature calls the money "additional" that might be an overstatement because MDOT's budget was facing cuts. MDOT says it will use $120 million dollars to get a federal match for the next construction season. That is money that might have been cut.

MDOT is also slated to get $115 million more dollars sometime next year. That money will be shared with local governments. An MDOT spokesperson says it is putting together a list of projects based on need, but the list is long and the funding just isn't there. The Department of Transportation will spend about a billion dollars on roads in the coming year.

Late Wednesday night in an interview with the Associated Press, Governor Snyder said he is lowering his expectations, backing away from his comprehensive plan and now is only asking to change the per gallon gas tax and instead tax the wholesale price. The Governor says the switch would have no revenue increase. Instead as gas prices rise in the future, so would the tax so that in another 15 years, the state doesn't find itself in another infrastructure funding problem.

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