SALT LAKE CITY — Utah lawmakers are paving the way for more toll roads in the state with legislation allowing electronic monitoring and extending the ability to charge fees on existing roads.
SB71, sponsored by Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, passed the House 49-21 Wednesday. A change made in the House to study how best to collect tolls from out-of-state and rental car drivers still had to be accepted by the Senate.
Niederhauser said it will be at least two years before Utahns see electronically monitored toll roads in the state, including in Little Cottonwood Canyon, where construction on an additional lane is set to start.
The Senate leader, whose district includes the canyon, sought electronic tolling to help control traffic to and from the ski resorts there that sometimes backs up into area neighborhoods.
The bill had been amended in the Senate to expand tolling to any state road, not just those that are newly constructed or expanded, as a way to increase transportation revenues.
"This is not a rush to go out and put toll roads all across the state," Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, the House sponsor of SB71, said during the House debate. He said it did not specify where tolls would be imposed.
"It does not enact tolls on Utah roads," Schultz said. "It does not install toll booths."
Schultz said the state doesn't want to be caught "flat-footed" as gas tax revenues dwindle with the emergence of alternative fuel vehicles. The gas tax covers about 50 percent of roadwork in the state, while the rest comes from the general fund.
"We should pay for what we use. Tolls are a good way to do it," Rep. Jeremy Peterson, R-Ogden, said.
The measure allows the Utah Department of Transportation to establish tollways on new or expanding roads as well as existing ones. It also allows the use of cameras and video technology to monitor toll roads and enforcement of high-occupancy vehicle lanes.
Noting that lawmakers are directing $600 million from the general fund to transportation, Rep. Scott Sandall, R-Tremonton, said the state needs to look at other funding models, and toll roads are an option.
Rep. Karen Kwan, D-Murray, said that when she lived paycheck to paycheck, she had to choose between going to work or the store because should couldn't afford a full tank of gas.
She said she's worried about the impact toll roads would have on low-income residents.18 comments on this story
Niederhauser said the state will have "so many possibilities when we have electronic tolling because it's technology," suggest the high occupancy vehicle lanes on I-15 could be converted to electronic monitoring.
That would enable drivers who don't have passengers to be charged in more than just a single HOV lane, Niederhauser said, "maybe all the lanes at some point and it will be congestion pricing" that's higher in heavier traffic.
He said this bill, however, is just enabling legislation.