Critics say charging tolls for the Mountain View Corridor is a form of double taxation with immeasurable risks, but state officials say that without the fees, the road isn't likely to be built.
The debate about making Mountain View a toll road began anew during a meeting Wednesday between state and local leaders, environmentalists and industry representatives. The goal was to discuss a $16.5 billion deficit for new roads in the state and how that relates to toll highways. But talk quickly turned into questions about fairness and risk.
"You think this is manna from heaven," said Dave Creer, executive director of the Utah Trucking Association. "I say we need to be very careful how we sell our birthright."
The Utah Department of Transportation plans to release a study this fall about charging tolls on Mountain View. Based on that analysis, the Utah Transportation Commission, which approves funding and projects for UDOT, will decide whether the tolls should be imposed.
In May, the department will hold several public meetings to explain why tolls are being considered on Mountain View. John Njord, UDOT executive director, said the fees are just one small way to deal with a billion-dollar problem in transportation funding.
"With the resources we have, we have not been able to keep up with demands for infrastructure," he said. "We anticipate that the very large projects that we all expect to take place, will not take place."
Those projects include a $3 billion reconstruction of I-15 in Utah County, a $1 billion widening of U.S. 6 and the $2 billion Mountain View Corridor. If it is built as a toll road, work on Mountain View could begin as early as 2009, said Teri Newell, UDOT project manager.
Without tolls or another funding source, she said, "I wouldn't predict when we would start construction."
But local leaders and state representatives are wary of who might be in charge of building Mountain View as a toll road.
During the 2006 legislative session, lawmakers gave UDOT permission to join with private companies to build toll roads. While the state could net billions from such a deal by allowing a company to build a road and maintain and collect tolls, many don't like the idea of anyone other than the state managing Utah roads.
It's also an issue of fairness, said state representatives from western Salt Lake County during Wednesday's meeting. They questioned why a road in their area was the first in the state to be considered as a toll road.
"Before you take and make the Mountain View Corridor the first major toll road in the state, I think people would like to see several roads announced as a target for this kind of thing," said Sen. Ed Mayne, D-West Valley.For more information about the Mountain View Corridor, log on to: www.udot.utah.gov/mountainview. Information about upcoming public meetings will be posted on the Web site.