Gas tax hike among I-80 options

2010-03-09T00:00:00Z Gas tax hike among I-80 optionsJOAN BARRON Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
March 09, 2010 12:00 am  • 

CHEYENNE — One of the interim studies authorized by legislative leaders last week will focus on a higher tax on gas and diesel fuel.

The fuel tax may be considered as an alternative to the failed Interstate 80 toll road study.

The tax by the Joint Interim Committee on Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs is the fourth priority on its list of interim studies.

The tolling bill, Senate File 35, sponsored by the committee, passed the Senate 18-12 but failed in the House Transportation committee 3-5.

“I think it’s our fiduciary responsibility to look at all options,” Sen. Michael Von Flatern, R-Gillette, the head of the Senate committee, said Monday.

“I think you’ll see once again a proposed fuel tax.”

The trucking industry and businesses along the interstate corridor opposed the toll road study bill.

Trucking industry representatives earlier said the companies prefer a fuel tax over tolling.

“The bottom side of that is that all they do is charge a fuels surcharge. It’s a pass-through for them,” Von Flatern said.

Officials blamed pounding from increasingly heavy truck traffic for damage to the east-west artery.

Von Flatern said the state may not get another chance for a tolling pilot program.

So far drafts for the new federal highway funding bill include no pilot programs.

“Right now we thought we would quality for a pilot program because they have three different plot programs within the last six-year appropriation,” he said.

“This might have been our only shot,” Von Flatern added.

Patrick Collins, Wyoming Department of Transportation assistant chief engineer, said the new highway bill has a long way to go.

But one draft of the new highway bill, which was passed by a U.S. House committee, “didn’t appear to be very tolling-friendly to four rural states.”

The state’s failed tolling bill called for a $350,000 study of the possibility of charging tolls on I-80.

Supporters said the bill was needed to demonstrate that the state is serious about tolling before the Federal Highway Administration will discuss it.

Von Flatern, R-Gillette, the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said earlier that alternate financing to fix and maintain I-80 is a 20- to 25-cent increase in the fuels tax or an annual legislative appropriation of $100 million a year.

Collin said Monday that WYDOT received $200 million in state dollars for the 2009-10 biennium and will get $50 million in the 2011-12 fiscal years, “which will help.”

WYDOT officials said earlier that a toll of $30 per truck and $3 per car would raise $120 million per year, and a 28-cent increase in the fuels tax would raise the same amount.

Contact Joan Barron at 307-632-1244 or joan.barron@trib.com.

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