Archive for Monday, July 20, 2009

Tolls on table in transportation talks

July 20, 2009


On the street

Would you be willing to pay higher tolls to help finance road improvements?

Yes. I travel a lot … and I think Kansas has better road conditions than most (states), and I would like to see that continue.

More responses

Property taxes. Gas taxes. Vehicle-registration taxes.

All can finance road and highway construction, reconstruction and ongoing maintenance, and have been counted on for doing so for years.

But as state leaders grapple with dwindling state revenues, mounting program expenses and a public unhappy about the prospect of rising taxes, a new potential revenue source is pulling into the discussion for future transportation financing.

The possibility of assessing new tolls is on the radar.

“Everything is going to have to be on the table,” said state Rep. Gary Hayzlett, R-Lakin, chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

Hayzlett and others acknowledge that with the economy still mired in a recession, leaders will need to explore a variety of revenue options to finance future needs.

Tolls just happen to be among the possibilities, and some residents in at least one part of the state say they’re ready to listen.

A survey of drivers in Douglas, Johnson, Leavenworth, Miami and Wyandotte counties found that the use of tolls finished second among the most favored ways to generate revenue for future transportation improvements. But that doesn’t mean they all want it.

Of 1,195 people surveyed for the state’s 5-County Regional Transportation Study, 44.8 percent of respondents ranked “use of tolls” among the top three revenue sources they would favor for such needs. That trailed only the assessment of impact fees on new developments, at 49.4 percent.

Public support

The support for tolls was higher in Douglas County, where 47.7 percent of respondents ranked tolls in their top three. Impact fees received the most support, at 49.4 percent, while assessing a usage fee — “the more you drive, the higher the fee” — received support from 28.5 percent.

Increasing the state’s gasoline tax, which customers pay each time they fill up at the pump, garnered 28.5 percent support in the region, and 32.9 percent backing in Douglas County.

Finishing last among all options across the board: increasing property taxes, at 7.7 percent for the region and 11.1 percent in Douglas County.

Such results don’t surprise Thomas Dow, state transportation planner for the Kansas Department of Transportation.

“Anything you have to pay once a year, you notice it more,” said Dow, who is project manager for the $1 million study, now in its first phase. “If you pay at the gas station or the toll booth, it’s not as much each time.”

But Dow cautions against reading too much into the results. Impact fees on new development couldn’t possibly generate enough revenue to finance all of the state’s transportation needs, he acknowledged.

The state’s last comprehensive transportation program, which expired in June, spent more than $13 billion on new roads, highways and other transportation modes during the past decade.

Mounting needs

Tolls wouldn’t be able to carry the entire load, either. The state already has conducted studies for projects needed along Kansas Highway 10, Kansas Highway 7 and a section of Interstate 35 and U.S. Highway 69, he said, and the total estimated bill for those jobs exceeds $3 billion.

“Tolls are not going to solve every transportation problem that we have in the state,” Dow said. “They may be part of the solution, for some of the issues. But we have yet to proceed far enough along to have any of those answers.”

Consideration of the use of tolls likely won’t be limited to simple revenue collection for construction, he said. Tolls also might be considered as a way to reduce congestion on highways, by charging higher prices during peak times to reduce traffic demand.

The Kansas Turnpike Authority already charges tolls for its own construction, maintenance and operational activities, reflecting the use of “a true user fee,” said Lisa Callahan, a turnpike spokeswoman.

For now, the turnpike authority is the only agency authorized by state law to charge tolls for use of its roads. But that could change.

Callahan notes that tolls shouldn’t be regarded as a single method for tackling transportation needs. Sure, the turnpike has paid off its $147 million in original construction costs and $9 million in interest expenses from 50 years ago, using tolls.

But the state’s population is too low, and its relative traffic loads too sparse, to make toll roads pencil out in today’s economy, she said. To finance all of a new highway’s construction using the same toll levels now charged on the turnpike, the new highway would need to carry five to seven times as much traffic as the busiest stretch of the turnpike.

‘Roads cost so much’

“You couldn’t build the turnpike today with just the way we did it originally,” Callahan said. “While tolls are a good option, tolls alone will not build new construction, because the roads cost so much.”

In the Lawrence area, simply replacing two bridges over the Kansas Turnpike, overhauling two interchanges and handling related work is costing the turnpike $130 million for construction.

Hayzlett, who recently wrapped up two weeks of harvesting wheat, is looking forward to meeting this summer with other lawmakers to discuss transportation needs and potential financing mechanisms.

Tolls just might come up, he said, but he’s confident that entire effort will require plenty of study.

“Sure, it sounds really good: ‘Let’s toll,’” he said. “But it’s not as simple.”


John Hamm 8 years, 6 months ago

Did anybody in the legislature ever think about curbing spending? I thought not.

"and when some mindless politician on the television screen says try to understand your missing future philosophically you pour yourself another drink and wonder if he ever tried to survive through the thunder of another night" Refugee

SettingTheRecordStraight 8 years, 6 months ago

"...44.8 percent of respondents ranked 'use of tolls' among the top three revenue sources they would favor for such needs."

That's like a poll asking, "If you had to choose, would you want government to give you a punch in the stomach, a poke in the eye, or a kick to your shins?"

A: None of the above

gccs14r 8 years, 6 months ago

How about building rail instead of road? It lasts longer, is safer, and uses less energy. Trucks should be for local delivery, not long-haul transportation. Cars should be a luxury, not a necessity. Oskaloosa would be a good transfer point for inter-urban rail that collects commuters from all over Jeff county, then carries them to either Topeka or Lawrence. From Lawrence, K-10 would provide an excellent rail corridor to Kansas City. $7 per gallon gas would help pay for it and encourage its use.

SettingTheRecordStraight 8 years, 6 months ago


Shall we hand over all our rights and freedoms to you now or wait until later?

When transporting freight by rail is the most economical choice, businesses choose to use it. Unless a product can bear a 2-week delay before it gets to market, trucks are far and away the most efficient. No offense, but you wouldn't last one day as a Fortune 500 CEO with that business sense.

And what about our nation's bankrupt embarrassment called Amtrak? Midwestern taxpayers continue to foolishly shovel boatloads of their incomes to Washington to pay for a ridiculous transit subsidy enjoyed almost exclusively by New England commuters. Here in Lawrence, it's just as bad or worse. Lawrence taxpayers continue to foolishly shovel boatloads of their incomes to pay for a transit subsidy enjoyed by almost no one.

Also, your comment about cars as a luxury, not a necessity, is also flawed at its core. First, our culture has rejected public transportation as a model. I think The Onion puts it best when it says, "98 Percent Of U.S. Commuters Favor Public Transportation For Others." Additionally, there is not one public transit system in the country that pays for itself. They all require a taxpayer bailout.

Finally, which politician will run for office on the message that gas should cost $7 per gallon? In all seriousness, you need to either change your message or your delivery; you're going to get nowhere with that idea.

I'm sorry, but Utopian dreams of forced collectivism and a well-controlled population are generally incompatible with reality.

gccs14r 8 years, 6 months ago

Trucks are faster, but are far from more efficient. If fuel prices reflected the true cost of acquisition, no one would drive anything.

Our culture didn't reject public transportation, it was stolen from us by General Motors so they could sell more cars.

strowbot 8 years, 6 months ago

How have legislators continued to overlook switching to a 4 day work week? It's a hard concept for some, but sometimes saving, not taxing, is the answer.

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