Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
FILE - Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, speaks at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017.

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill allowing tolls to be collected by electronically reading license plates that's intended to be used to charge drivers on the road through Little Cottonwood Canyon unanimously won initial approval Monday in the Senate.

The sponsor of SB71, Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said there are misconceptions about what it does since the Utah Department of Transportation already has the authority to collect tolls on new or expanded roads.

Niederhauser said although his bill allows UDOT to use new technology to assess tolls on those roads, he is running the bill because of traffic problems in the canyon that leads to a pair of ski resorts, which he called his "favorite backyard."

"It's a nightmare going up and down that canyon, especially on a snowy day on the weekend," and even in the summer, the Senate leader said. "I love living where I live, but traffic is a huge problem in the canyon."

The road qualifies for tolls because last year lawmakers appropriated $60 million to add a lane, Niederhauser said. The details of a toll, including how the money collected would be used, would be left up to UDOT to determine.

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The agency would also be able to make rules about a requirement in the latest version of the bill that requires a vehicle's registration renewal to be withheld if tolls are owed, he said.

Niederhauser framed the bill as part of the effort to raise more money for transportation needs given that gas taxes are being supplemented by some $600 million annually from the state's general fund.

"It's a stark reality, folks," he told senators before they voted 29-0 in favor of advancing the bill to a final vote in the Senate before it moves to the House.