Lawmakers on Tuesday passed a bill that included a last-minute change to greatly expand the Utah Department of Transportation’s authority to impose tolls on roads.
Currently, UDOT is limited to only tolling new roads, but the amended bill approved by the Utah Senate would allow it to toll any state road without legislative approval.
Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said this would ensure that newly developed areas don’t shoulder the cost of road upkeep.
“This policy has to be statewide and available on any road,” Niederhauser told his Senate colleagues. “Not just as good policy, but to be fair to everyone.”
Niederhauser said the gas tax no longer keeps up with the costs of road maintenance and the state ends up paying about $600 million a year to repair existing roads. He also argues that as electric vehicles become more common, tolling is a fair way for drivers to pay for infrastructure.
The bill would also open the door for UDOT to implement an electronic tolling system, possibly with license plate-capturing and electronic billing technology.
The amended bill easily passed the Senate by a vote of 26-3 and will now be considered by the House.
One objection to the surprise amendment came from Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, who fretted about how it would affect a bill he’s running to raise taxes for transportation projects.
“This has caught me a little bit by surprise with all of the revenue things we’re doing with transportation,” said Harper.
“Yes, it can be done,” he said. “The question is should it be done?”
The legislation does not address tolling up canyons, but Niederhauser has said his eventual goal is to use tolling to reduce congestion in Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons.