Wyoming I-80 toll bill gets truckers’ attention
February 10, 2020
The Wyoming Legislature returns to work this week and one issue awaiting their consideration is whether to tap tolls to cover costs for improvements to Interstate 80 in the state.
The Joint Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee filed the bill for consideration during the regular session that begins Monday, Feb. 10. The panel voted 7-6 in recent months to move forward with plans to help the state find the money needed for construction and maintenance of the heavily traveled east-west interstate.
Similar legislation has been considered at the statehouse in the past decade, but each effort has failed to gain support in both chambers.
The latest effort, SF6, would have the state Department of Transportation come up with a master plan to toll the 400-mile thoroughfare in southern Wyoming. According to a fiscal note attached to the bill, the agency would need to come up with $1 million to $1.25 million to develop a master plan.
“The tolled configuration will allow Interstate 80 to be maintained and to be operated in a way that will reduce traffic congestion, delays, hazards, injuries and fatalities,” the bill reads.
WyDOT officials say that something needs to be done to help the agency address the $40 million shortfall just to maintain the highway. Agency officials say I-80 also needs additional climbing lanes, more truck parking and the reconstruction of its interchange with I-25 in Cheyenne.
Truckers oppose I-80 toll plan
The Wyoming Trucking Association has testified against the tolling effort. The group noted that carriers would use alternative routes to avoid tolls and would cause businesses along I-80 to lose money.
Truckers in the state, and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, add that professional drivers already pay multiple taxes and fees to access I-80 and other roadways.
“To be clear, OOIDA fundamentally opposes toll roads,” OOIDA President and CEO Todd Spencer wrote in communication with the state legislature’s transportation committee. “However, toll roads are more egregious when they are proposed for existing highway capacity.”
Spencer further cautioned legislators about any tolling scheme that would target out-of-state truckers.
“This would potentially run afoul of the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution,” he said. “Meaning, that is the legal argument OOIDA would use as the foundation for a lawsuit against the state.”
Spencer urged legislators to come up with a more practical solution to secure additional revenue for roads and bridges.
“At 24 cents per gallon, Wyoming’s state fuel tax is among the lowest in the nation. A modest increase in the state fuel tax is a more appropriate, cost-effective and equitable solution.”
Tolling the existing highway is a multiple-step process. The Wyoming Legislature must first act to authorize tolls in the state. Secondly, the governor would need to sign off on the plan. Finally, the federal government must grant the state permission to charge tolls on vehicles using I-80.
Specific details of the toll plan, rates, or where tolls would be collected are not included in the bill. The master plan would determine the details.