Archive for Friday, August 2, 2002

Repeal of turnpike tolls favored by 47 percent of respondents

August 2, 2002

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It seems most motorists are looking for a free ride on the Kansas Turnpike.

But turnpike officials say there's no such thing.

"Roads have to be paid for either by taxes or by tolls," said turnpike spokeswoman Lisa Callahan. "If the tolls were removed, it wouldn't make the cost of the road go away. It would then have to be paid for by taxes."

Nevertheless, The World Company Poll shows a plurality of Kansans  47 percent  support repealing turnpike tolls. Forty-two percent would rather keep the tolls, and 11 percent were undecided.

An even greater number, 66 percent, have little interest in expanding the road to six lanes between Wichita and Topeka. Nineteen percent would like to see the expansion; 15 percent were undecided.

The Kansas Turnpike Authority is not considering such an expansion, Callahan said, although staff is studying the option of widening the road between Topeka and Lecompton, where the turnpike registers its heaviest traffic.

That growth trend prompted the recent construction of a new 17,297-square-foot service area between Topeka and Lawrence, a project with a $14 million price tag.

It's those kinds of improvements that require continued funding from tolls, turnpike officials say.

As a private toll road, the turnpike does not receive any tax dollars. Nor does it collect tax money from fuel sold at service areas along its route. Although all 236 miles of the road is interstate and the state gets credit for those miles when it comes to highway funding, the turnpike authority doesn't receive state dollars.

And KTA officials say that while it may be true the authority has paid off the bonds issued to build the road, it's still chipping away at bonds issued for more recent projects.

The toll system has served the turnpike well since it opened in 1956, Callahan said, noting that it seemed to be the fairest way to pay for a road.

"The answer to lots of problems  schools, trash, jails  is to privatize and make the user pay. That's the concept of the turnpike," she said. "If you don't use the turnpike, you don't ever pay for it."

Another savings to Kansas taxpayers: About 50 percent of the turnpike's revenue comes from out-of-state drivers, Callahan said.

In recent years, tolls have helped maintain and rebuild portions of the road, construct new interchanges at East Topeka and Lecompton and rebuild every bridge on it between Oklahoma and the Eastern Terminal.

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