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December 4, 2019 11:00 AM, EST

Michigan Lawmakers Weigh Bill on Tolling Feasibility Study

Detroit roadGratiot Avenue in Detroit. State Sen. John Bizon said it's too early to tell which routes might be suitable for tolls. (Getty Images)

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Michigan legislators are considering a bill that would authorize a study on the feasibility of tolling certain highways.

Senate Bill 517, sponsored by Sen. John Bizon (R-Battle Creek), calls for a study that would assess the possibility of tolling roads, streets, highways or bridges throughout the state.

Bizon, an ear, nose and throat doctor by training, said the study is meant to help him and his fellow lawmakers learn more about tolling potential in Michigan.

Sen. John Bizon (R-Battle Creek)

Bizon

“All too often we as legislators are asked to make decisions that are important for this state, and oftentimes have to do that on limited information,” Bizon told Transport Topics. “This is simply an attempt to get us more information.”

The Michigan Department of Transportation would take bids to determine which outside firm would conduct the feasibility study, which would include revenue projections based on the analysis of optimal tolling rates, vehicle counts and traffic diversion.

According to the legislation, the study must consider economic impact, the ability to provide discounts to locals and commuters, estimates for the number of out-of-state drivers who would use the tolled highways and optimal levels at which tolls may reasonably be set as well as other factors.

Bizon said it’s too early to tell which routes might be suitable for tolls, or which vehicles the tolls would apply to.

“After the study does what the study is to do, we are anticipating a report back to the legislature, and it’s at that point in time that we’re going to dissect what we learn in the study,” Bizon said.

SB517 continues to work its way through the Senate. The bill builds on earlier legislation that established funds for transportation.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

Whitmer

Transportation funding has been a leading issue in Michigan this past year. One major point of contention has been Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s proposed 45-cent fuel tax increase to provide funding for infrastructure improvements, which Republican legislators have opposed. Michigan’s current excise tax rate is 26.3 cents per gallon for gasoline and diesel, according to the state and American Petroleum Institute.

The proposal, announced March 5, calls for the tax hike in three 15-cent increases from Oct. 1, 2019, to Oct. 1, 2020. The tax increase is meant to generate $2.5 billion a year in revenue, which would be directed to the new Fixing Michigan Roads Fund and devoted to the state’s most important commercial routes.

“I think the governor has one vision, and I think many of those in the legislature and many of the constituents have a different vision,” Bizon said. “We are still trying to find that meeting place in between.”

Michigan’s infrastructure has room for improvement. The state received a D+ on the American Society of Civil Engineers’ most recent infrastructure report card, issued in March 2018. Roads and stormwater management systems tied for the worst grade, each receiving a D-.

Several states have commissioned studies to assess the possibility of tolling. The Minnesota Department of Transportation published a report in 2018 that considered the cost of expanding tolls on major routes in the Twin Cities area. Connecticut lawmakers continue to argue about adopting a tolling (or trucks-only tolling) plan. Certain large metropolitan areas, including New York City, Seattle and Los Angeles, have considered congestion pricing as a means to mitigate traffic.

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