Archive for Friday, July 27, 2001

Toll on tourism raises questions about turnpike

July 27, 2001


— Drivers zipping through Kansas are paying extra if they decide to get off the turnpike for a meal or to visit one of the state's tourist attractions.

The little-known charge is generally less than 50 cents for passenger cars, but can rise to more than a couple of dollars for recreational vehicles and trucks.

And that's raising some questions about whether Kansas should consider structuring its turnpike tolls to encourage motorists to stop and spend money as they drive through the state.

The extra charge for getting off the Kansas Turnpike "doesn't help them 'linger longer,"' said Sedgwick County Commissioner Betsy Gwin, quoting a slogan from a recent state tourism campaign.

"It would be better if the turnpike would figure out a way to get people to stop," she said.

But state Sen. Les Donovan, R-Wichita, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee and a member of the Turnpike Authority board, said he doesn't think motorists are influenced by the extra charges.

"The fact that there's an incremental amount of additional cost, I wasn't aware of it, but it doesn't surprise me," he said. "It costs money to check them through."

The cost of getting off and back on the turnpike depends on where the stops are made. For example, someone who stops in Emporia while driving from Wichita to Topeka will pay 35 cents more for tolls.

A car driver who cruises the 236-mile length of the turnpike without leaving pays $8.15. Stopping at each of the 18 exits along the way would increase the total toll to $10.95.

The turnpike, which operates as a stand-alone business, is run by a board of three gubernatorial appointees and two legislators.

Overall, the turnpike had more than 29 million vehicle trips last year. About 7.8 million out-of-state motorists drive the turnpike each year.

Last year, the KTA collected about $61.4 million in tolls. No one knows how much of that came from the extra cost of getting off and on the turnpike.

Turnpike officials say the cost of collecting the tolls justifies the extra charges.

"It costs us money for you to get off and on," said Lisa Callahan, spokesman for the authority. "We have to process that ticket and hand out another ticket. Those costs are passed on to the consumer."

The extra charges increase with the size of the vehicle.

That's the situation that faced husband-and-wife trucking team Vonno and Brenda Anglin of Asheville, N.C. They carried a load of flowers through Kansas last week, with stops in Topeka and Wichita.

Those two stops raised the toll to $26.85, compared with $24.20 if they'd gone straight through.

They ate for free at a restaurant in a state-leased rest area. Detouring into nearby Cassoday would have added another $2.85 to their toll.

"If we're gonna go into a town and we're gonna spend money there, it doesn't seem like we ought to have to pay any more money to do that," Vonno Anglin said.

Jeff Mercer, director of the Kansas Department of Travel and Tourism, said he'll take a closer look at how toll charges might affect the tourism business.

"If we can get people to pull off, more people are going to see more of our attractions," he said.

Sedgwick County commissioners Gwin and Ben Sciortino say local governments should consider coming up with ways to overcome the extra toll.

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