Highway tolls may become a reality for Michigan roads

In the U.S., states such as California, New York, and Texas have highway tolls, and now, this same measure could become the future for Michigan highways.

On January 28, the Michigan Senate met to vote on a study that would research the cost of inputting tolls onto each highway. In the tolling legislation, the state Department of Transportation must hire an outside consulting firm to perform a feasibility study and give a probable implementation plan — based on revenue projections from “optimal” tolling rates, vehicle counts and types, and traffic diversion. The firm would be required to analyze the economic impact and feasibility of tolls and the ability to provide discounts to local residents, commuters, and in-state drivers.

According to Michigan.gov, Michigan came close in 1951 to having toll highways through The Michigan Turnpike Authority, but “the Federal funding for the Interstate Highway System covered most of the cost of freeway construction, ending Michigan’s interest in toll roads.” 

There aren’t any toll roads in Michigan, but tolls are collected at Blue Water Bridge, International Bridge, Mackinac Bridge, Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, Ambassador Bridge. 

Just like anything else, some advantages and disadvantages come with extending a business model. Benefits include direct new revenue to high-volume roads, free existing fuel and registration tax revenues for use on other roadways, raising funding without statewide tax increases, and reducing congestion through pricing. Disadvantages include fewer interchanges – a different design philosophy than Michigan freeways, diverting traffic to parallel routes, with possible neighborhood impacts, and discouragement of tourism and business location.

MDOT senior policy analyst Aarne Frobom spoke about the potential of toll highways on Talking Michigan Transportation podcast in 2019. “Toll roads could pay for building what I called interstate version 2,” Frobom said. “The system that we’ve got out there now was basically engineered in the late 1950s. We’re still operating on a road system that’s the equivalent of a 1958 DeSoto in terms of design and engineering. A toll financed freeway could be a completely different structure than we’re used to now. It might have exclusive truck lanes, the trucks might be under partial computer control, they might be a platoon, they might have a lane to themselves, which the truckers might actually be eager to pay for, there could be lanes devoted to ultra-high-speed car travel. It could look completely different from the freeways that we’re used to now.”

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