The Utah Trucking Association is ramping up its opposition to toll roads in the state by considering a widespread public campaign against them.
If successful in building opposition, state transportation officials say public outcry could influence whether they recommend that the billion-dollar Mountain View Corridor become a toll road. The proposed highway would run in west Salt Lake County and northwestern Utah County.
Dan England, president of C.R. England Inc. and past president of the Utah Trucking Association, said during a meeting with the Deseret Morning News editorial board that toll roads pose two major problems: They unfairly burden people who live near toll roads and hurt commerce by limiting the routes available to truckers.
"We would much rather pay an increase in the fuel tax than a toll," said English.
"I think our political leaders have let us down," he added. "They haven't been successful in capturing enough levels of funding to keep our highways going, and because they haven't made the decisions earlier, now we're looking at tolls."
During its annual meeting last week, the board of directors for the Trucking Association voted to allow the group to continue spending money and devoting resources to vocally oppose toll roads and see whether an advertising and lobbying campaign would be worthwhile. The board, which has about 40 members, represents 430 trucking companies that operate in the state.
The Trucking Association's executive board had already encouraged the group to pursue a campaign against toll roads.
Carlos Braceras, deputy director of the Utah Department of Transportation, said department leaders would not recommend imposing tolls on the Mountain View Corridor without the approval of residents and political leaders.
"We believe there needs to be community support for tolling," he said.
Residents from Salt Lake County's west side have said that tolling is a form of "double-taxation." They have said they already pay for roads through the gas tax and other fees used to pay for road construction and maintenance in the state.
State officials, however, say that charging tolls on Mountain View is one way the road could be built within the next few years. If tolls are imposed through a public-private partnership, construction could begin as early as 2009, UDOT says.
The road otherwise has no funding.
"It is a way we can see to deliver it sooner," said Braceras, "If someone were to come and show us a better way, we'd be very open to that."
Later this fall, UDOT plans to announce its preferred route for Mountain View. It will also release a toll analysis of the road. Based on the analysis, UDOT will recommend to the state Transportation Commission whether it thinks Mountain View should be a toll road. The seven-member commission, which prioritizes projects for UDOT, has been given authority by the Legislature to approve state toll projects.For more information about Mountain View and to see a list of upcoming public meetings, go to UDOT's Web site at: www.udot.utah.gov/mountainview.