Michigan toll measure takes step forward
November 11, 2019
A bill package moving through the Michigan Senate focuses on how to improve effectiveness by state and local governments to fund repairs for roads and bridges. An option to use tolls is included.
The statehouse action comes as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer continues her pursuit of a long-term road and bridge funding deal. The governor wants a 45-cent increase to the state’s 26.3-cent fuel tax rate to help address at least $1.5 billion in funding needs.
An alternative to a fuel tax increase is making its way through one statehouse chamber. Specifically, the Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Committee voted unanimously to advance a bill that calls for setting up a panel to investigate the feasibility of charging tolls for roads and bridges.
Sponsored by Sen. John Bizon, R-Battle Creek, SB517 would have state officials hire an independent consulting firm to study the viability of collecting tolls on interstates.
Bizon told the committee during discussion that his bill is for informational purposes only. He said it would be up to elected officials to decide whether to move forward with pursuit of tolls.
“This would not commit us to anything. It would let the federal government know we are looking at it,” Bizon testified.
Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Tom Barrett, R-Charlotte, affirmed the bill sponsor’s testimony.
“This does not in any way commit the state to do tolling or set rates – anything to that effect,” Barrett said. “It simply allows us to explore the option of if we can, so we can have the policy discussion about if we should, and if we should what that should look like.”
Consideration would be given to the economic impact of toll roads, providing discounts to in-state drivers, toll amounts, and how to pay for the toll. The impact of tolls on out-of-state operators expected to use Michigan interstates would also be considered.
A written report on the firm’s findings would be provided to state officials by January 2021. At that time, the governor would be permitted to move forward with a “strategic plan” to implement tolls.
The bill’s next stop is the Senate floor. If approved there, it would move to the House for consideration.
If state officials choose to pursue the toll option, federal approval would still be required for roadways that include Interstates 75 and 94.
The committee approved two other pieces of legislation in the bill package that cover road reporting requirements.
SB515 would require the Michigan Department of Transportation to develop a highway construction inflation index. The index would be used to measure inflation in highway construction costs.
Barrett added an amendment to his bill to clarify the index would be made available to local agencies but it would not be a requirement for agencies to follow.
The second bill, SB516, would expand asset management reporting requirements for local and state agencies.
The bills await further consideration on the House floor.
Two more bills discussed during the committee hearing are touted to help maximize local road funds.
Sponsored by Sen. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, SB518 would require all federal transportation funds received by the state to be spent by MDOT. An exception would be made for funds specifically allocated by the feds for local jurisdictions or funds allocated to local jurisdictions through a competitive process.
“With the state handling all federal transportation funds and reporting requirements, local agencies can then focus their resources more efficiently,” Runestad said in previous remarks.
The companion bill, SB519, would use state funds to replace the federal dollars directed to MDOT through SB518. Funds would be directed from the state to counties, cities, and villages.
Runestad said the two bills would give local transportation agencies improved flexibility to address pressing road repaving and repairs.
No votes on the bills were taken during the hearing.
A related bill, SB521, also in the Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, would require local governments to include plans on how they would maintain and pay for any new infrastructure.
Additional Michigan road funding coverage
Michigan legislators are taking up pursuit of changes to help improve effectiveness by state and local governments to cover road and bridge repairs.
The Michigan governor has acted to tamp down a short-term roads deal in hope of forcing lawmakers back to the negotiation table to do a long-term deal.