The Gongwer Blog

Senate Transportation Panel Questions Tolling Feasibility

By Alyssa McMurtry
Staff Writer
Posted: February 13, 2023 9:43 AM

Implementing tolling on 545 miles of highway by 2032 may be feasible according to a recent study, but the Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Committee had questions at a meeting last week about toll rates and diversion away from roads that would no longer be free of charge.

HNTB, a Missouri based company, conducted the Michigan Statewide Tolling Feasibility Study and Implementation Plan released in December 2022. The study was done at the request of the Legislature.

Before the committee was Eric Morris, HNTB senior vice president and project manager, Ron Davis, deputy project manager, and Kari Martin, Department of Transportation statewide systems management section manager and project manager for the feasibility study.

"The bottom line is a total of 6 and 6.5 cents per mile indexed for inflation will cover all the lifecycle costs for about 545 miles of highway at or above standard performance measures," Mr. Morris said. "By 2032, if implemented, this program would support $8.5 billion in capital investments on these 545 miles."

Commercial vehicles would be charged more, approximately 18 cents per mile, similar to other states like Indiana or Ohio. Sen. Joe Bellino (R-Monroe) voiced some concerns about charging truck drivers more than everyone else.

"They already pay a lot more tax on fuel and they pay a lot more tax on registration," Mr. Bellino said.

Mr. Morris said there is quite a bit of freight traffic flowing from Canada into Michigan. He agreed that Michigan is a peninsula state and does not have the pass-through traffic like Indiana or Ohio, hence why the researchers suggest 18 cents rather than the 50 cents those states are charging.

The state would have to implement electronic tolling, meaning no toll booths or waiting in line. The electronic tolls would either pick up on the transponder like iPass or E-ZPass, or would take a photo of the individual's license plate and mail the toll to their home.

Looking only at limited access highways for tolling, Mr. Morris said the research team was able to narrow the options down to 14 corridors. One factor in the selection process was to avoid placing the tolls in "environmental justice communities," or disadvantaged communities.

Breaking it down to three tiers, Mr. Morris said Tier 1 would be ready in five to seven years. Tier 2 would take approximately 14 to 15 years and Tier 3 would take more than 15 years. Tier 1 corridors centered largely on I-275 and I-696. The revenue from the entire Tier 1 system, Mr. Morris said, would represent about $1.3 billion yearly in gross collections.

Unlike other states, the report suggests an new approach to converting non-toll roads to toll road, Mr. Morris said.

Sen. Veronica Klinefelt (D-Eastpointe) asked about diversion away from the toll roads, saying many residents take 8 mile in Detroit to get to one side of the city to the other during rush hour.

Mr. Morris said he was expecting as high as a 13 percent diversion rate for 696. He also said that when looking at the diversion rate for 8 cents per mile, it reached as high as 20 percent, and when charging 4 cents per mile, the revenue was not enough to fund the roads.

Mr. Davis discussed the costs of implementing the tolls, saying bond financing would allow them to take out financing and pay for the initial roadwork to bring the roads and bridges up to "asset performance standards."

Between 2026 and 2031, Mr. Davis said he estimated the costs of installing the toll collection system would be $500 million. Beyond 2031, all the costs would be covered by toll revenues, he added.

The legislation necessary to get the tolling implemented on the researchers' timeline would need to be approved by the end of 2024. When speaking with reporters after the committee, Committee Chair Sen. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor) said she did not predict any legislation on tolling to be introduced this year.

When asked how she thought constituents would react to tolls, Ms. Geiss said she had a feeling they would react similarly to those in her household, firmly asserting that they do not want tolls in Michigan.

"The concept part of it, it's a little scary because a lot of us think you know person in the booth, traffic slows to a grinding halt and … all that time that you've made up going fast has just been completely wiped out by having to sit there, like that's the mentality," Ms. Geiss said.

However, Ms. Geiss added that if tolling is implemented, she thinks the state will do it "intelligently and equitably and in a way that doesn't make it regressive but that does improve our roads."

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