June 27, 2014 at 11:37 am

Tom Greenwood

Tolls unlikely to smooth Michigan's bumpy roads

Motorists pass through a toll booth along the Ohio Turnpike. While collecting tolls on Michigan roadways has been discussed, it's unlikely. (Tony Dejak / AP)

Are there toll roads in Michigan’s future?

Let’s put it this way: There will be Dairy Queens on the moon before we see any major toll roads in this state, and there are billion$ of reasons why.

The major stumbling block is the federal government pays up to 80 percent of the costs on many Michigan freeways and highways and, in nearly all cases, would want to be repaid for its investment.

Michigan is facing a chronic shortfall for road construction funds, but would it be expected to come up with hundreds of billions to repay the feds for I-75, 94, 96, etc.?

Michigan also could erect tolls on any road that it builds using only state money, but again we just don’t have the money for any such project. (Additionally we really don’t need more roads, the need is to maintain the roads we have.)

It’s true the feds will allow states to submit tolls on federally funded highways, but only under certain circumstances such as Michigan paying to add new lanes to an existing highway or reconstructing a non-interstate road. Again, we don’t have the money.

Then there’s the subjective side of toll roads.

Many Michigan motorists bristle at the thought of Lansing lawmakers raising the gas tax by as little as 10 cents a gallon (which averages out to about an additional $120 per year per driver); do you think these same people will cheer to pay to use roads they’ve always used for free?

Never happen, G.I.

And quite frankly, toll roads are a pain in the asphalt.

Have you ever been caught in the toll roads outside Chicago? Pay a toll, drive a few hundred feet and pay another toll, another hundred feet and pay another toll.

Critics also say they create traffic backups, waste fuel, waste time and increase air pollution and driver frustration. Michigan also relies heavily on tourism, would toll roads discourage visitors from enjoying what the state has to offer?

To be fair, every toll road I’ve ever driven (mostly Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Maine) were in magnificent shape, which is what happens when you have access to billions in road dollars. Are we willing to float billions in bond issues to do the same as those states?

In 2013 Lansing received House Bill 4925, a $450 million road funding package that, among other things, would allow the Michigan Department of Transportation to enter into “public private partnerships” to build roads that “may be financed by user fees, charges and other revenues.”

The bill never made it out of the House Transportation Committee and the legislators have since taken to Michigan’s bumpy roads for summer vacation.

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