Badger Institute calls for new tolling study
Milwaukee, WI (July 3, 2019) – The decision today by Gov. Tony Evers to veto a budget provision requiring the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) to study interstate tolling as a mechanism for funding interstate highways is unfortunate and short-sighted, said Mike Nichols, president of the Badger Institute. The institute has conducted extensive research on the future of transportation funding and has long called for the implementation of a tolling system in Wisconsin.
The Legislature’s budget would have required DOT to spend up to $2.5 million to study tolling and mileage-based fees and submit a report on its findings. Evers said he vetoed this section because he objected “to the financing of another study that will show, yet again, that the motor fuel tax is the most effective way to approximate a user fee of roadway use and the most cost-effective way to collect revenue.”
“Contrary to the governor’s claim, relying on the gas tax to fund our roads is unsustainable in the long-run,” said Nichols. “High-mileage cars, hybrids and electric vehicles are using less gas while still using our roads. A modern tolling system is the key to a long-term, sustainable infrastructure system.”
Wisconsin’s interstate highway system is wearing out and needs to be rebuilt and modernized, according to Robert W. Poole Jr., a national transportation expert and Badger Institute visiting fellow. He noted that federal and state gas taxes can’t possibly generate the $8 billion to $12 billion needed for an upgrade.
A February 2019 study by the Badger Institute highlighted the challenges faced by lawmakers to find a sustainable funding system for our roads. The fuel efficiency of the average vehicle is projected to rise 24% by 2027, further lowering gas tax revenues.
“A tolling system on our interstate highways will make sure that all cars using our roads, even those from out of state, will contribute toward their upkeep and maintenance,” said Nichols. “Any new system will take years or even decades to build, so we need to take action now. Today’s veto further delays this much-needed reform.”
A ‘Phase 2’ study, following up on previous tolling studies in Wisconsin, is needed to determine more accurately the cost of rebuilding and widening (where needed) the state’s aging Interstates, according to Poole.
“A Phase 2 study also could recommend ways to make the cost of electronic toll collection as low as possible, compared with the high cost of old-fashioned cash tolling,” said Poole.