State Rejects Notion Of Toll Roads

November 4, 2002
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LANSING — Relax, commuters: There won’t be toll roads in the Great Lakes State any time soon.

A private company recently approached the staff of the Michigan Department of Transportation with a proposal to build and maintain toll roads along I-94, but it was rejected, MDOT Director Gregory Rosine said.

“Michigan is a destination state, and putting up tolls on I-94 would be like charging admission to come here,” said Ari Adler, MDOT director of communications. “With tourism being our second largest source of revenue, we need to be careful not to deter people from coming here.”

Krystin Liska, a cashier at J&D Truck Stop in Niles, said that most truck drivers she talks to try to avoid toll roads, so they might decide to take a route farther from Niles if I-94 became a toll road.

She said that she would also avoid tolls if she could, although she doesn’t travel often.

Tara Winters, manager of the Three Rivers Subway sandwich shop, said she doesn’t like the idea of paying tolls either, but she doesn’t think it would hurt business in Three Rivers.

“The majority of our customers come from our town,” she said.

Adler said that although MDOT doesn’t want tolls in the state, they would be a good source of revenue for road repair and maintenance.

For example, the Blue Water and Ambassador bridges that connect Michigan to Canada are both entered through paid tolls. The same is true for the Mackinac Bridge, Rosine said.

Private companies staff the tollbooths and pay for the maintenance of the bridges, Adler said.

If private companies were to charge tolls on a highway in Michigan, they would pay for the maintenance, and we could use MDOT funds for new construction, he added.

State and federal gas taxes are the primary source of funding for road maintenance, but the taxes don’t generate enough money for reconstruction and expansion projects, Adler said.

For example, there is a six-mile section of I-94 that needs to be widened to accommodate traffic between Connor Avenue and the I-96 interchange in Detroit. That project would cost MDOT $1.3 billion — $600,000 less than next year’s budget for the entire state, he said.

“We don’t know how we will pay for that and still maintain the rest of the state’s roads,” he added.

Adler said MDOT is looking at ways to get more funding in the future, and one idea is to charge developers a portion of the maintenance costs for roads in their area.

“The developers often help pay sewer and water costs in communities that need upgrades, but they don’t pay for the roads, even though their construction often leads to greater road traffic,” Adler said.

Ideas for increasing MDOT revenue are in the very early phase, and nothing has been decided on yet, he added. 

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