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DOT tolling study shows Wisconsin would collect hundreds of millions, but legislative fight looms

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MILWAUKEE -- A study released Thursday, December 29th shows that Wisconsin could raise hundreds of millions of dollars every year by collecting tolls on its interstates, but logistical hurdles and a legislative battle remain. road-funds2

The study, commissioned by lawmakers and conducted by engineering firm HNTB at a cost of nearly $900,000 to the state, shows that Wisconsin roads will get "severely" worse over the next decade at the currently funding level.

The study suggests that Wisconsin would generate $372 million a year in net revenue if it tolled four cents per mile driven on each of its interstates. But it would cost drivers: from Kenosha to General Mitchell International Airport, $1.04; Miller Park to Madison, $2.72; and Wauwatosa to Green Bay, $5.00.

The estimate assumes that drivers without a transponder would pay a 50 percent surcharge. There would be no tolling booths, under HNTB's model.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said Thursday that lawmakers should consider tolls to plug part of the state's nearly $1 billion transportation shortfall.

"We know that the governor has consistently said he does not support an increase in the gas tax," Vos said. "This is another viable option to say to people, if you want to use the interstates, you should pay for those. And if you want to use a side road, perhaps it would be a little less expensive, but it might take you a little longer."

Gov. Scott Walker believes the tolling study includes "new information that will be helpful to policy makers," said Tom Evenson, a spokesman for Walker.

Evenson did not say whether Walker supported any of the tolling methods included in the study. "The governor will not go back on his promise to voters not to increase taxes" for roads, Evenson said.

HNTB says tolls have several benefits, including: ensuring that road users pay for the cost of road improvements, guaranteeing that out-of-state drivers will pay their share, and providing a revenue source that -- unlike the gas tax -- isn't impacted by more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Pros of tolling

Pros of tolling

Cons of tolling

Cons of tolling

Yet toll systems are complicated to run, would require the state to build infrastructure up-front and the state would need federal approval to implement tolls, HNTB cautioned.

The study estimated that 17 percent of drivers -- more in urban areas -- would try to avoid tolls by using surface streets instead, and that could have additional traffic consequences.

HNTB recommended tolling all of Wisconsin's interstates, including I-94, I-90, I-43, I-41, and I-39.

Debate on the road funding issue will begin in earnest this spring. While Assembly Republicans are considering tolling, other GOP lawmakers have said it's a non-starter with them.


  • kevin

    great way to slow down an already too congested highway/road system why slow everything down when you can just tax the gas stations. why even have wisconsin invest in the interstate project then and widen lanes just to screw it up again. gas tax would bring in the same amount of money and force newer safer more energy efficent cars on to the road which is a good thing

      • M Daniels (@MDaniels5)

        That’s not the issue. A lot of people will just take alternate routes to avoid the tolls, especially within Milwaukee metro area. If you’re not in a hurry, you could even take Highway 18 between Madison and Milwaukee to avoid the toll on I-94, and the drive would only take another 15 minutes or so. So those alternate roads will get slower and suffer more wear and tear, while not generating any toll money.

  • Huh !

    There’s going to be a necessity for tolls sometime soon, so why not start on the infrastructure now ?
    All vehicles, even motorcycles, cause wear to the roads !
    All vehicles, whether gas or electric are by nature Not Efficient ! The energy used to create the parts and fuels used to create the electricity for an electric car vs the same for gas powered cars could be studied but, the results will show both are inefficient AND BOTH DAMAGE THE ROADS THE SAME ! The only way to offset the costs of our infrastructure without raising taxes anywhere is by creating a method where all users of our roads help with the cost …. Sounds like some type of toll is the answer !

  • Kinky

    Damn i already drive around Illinois toll system, now they want to mess up Wi too. How about not building a trolley, that will free up wasted money.

  • Christian W

    I would be ok with this if there was a no touch clause in it and it was used STRICTLY for roads, and not something to be raided later on by a dumbass politician who needed funds for something else.

    • Alex from New Berlin

      I think toll road money can only be used for toll roads. I believe that’s how it is in other states.

  • Alex from New Berlin

    Gotta bite the bullet somewhere. Roads don’t get repaired and maintained by magic. Tolls make sense as they nab all the Illinois drivers that people in Wisconsin can’t stand. Increasing gas revenue won’t help, if more and more people are buying Tesla’s, so alternative ways to maintain WI roads need to be implemented. Wouldn’t it be nice not to feel bump after bump the next time you’re on the highway?

    • Barry O

      the money will never be used for what it is intended for and they will just ask for more. Eliminate the state income tax and then you can add toll roads.

  • Maren PAlmer Kleven

    My father, Lester Palmer, was a promoter of the interstate highway system and past President of the Wisconsin Good Roads Association. He lobbied before Congress and was so proud of the fact that the freeways in Wisconsin were FREE from one end of the state to the other. Toll roads???
    He is rolling in his grave! This idea is short sighted and unfair. It could have huge impacts on communities and the condition and safety of the alternate highways that surely would be more heavily used. Think again, Wisconsin! You can do better than toll roads!

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