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Toll roads in Michigan?

May 16, 2014 by Steven M. Gursten

House bill, federal proposal bring the road funding debate to our state as lawmakers grapple with how to fix potholes and crumbling infrastructure

toll roads

I recently posed the question of whether Michigan should turn to using toll roads to address the influx of potholes  on our roads after the extremely harsh winter we all survived. Now a new House Bill is proposing just that.

House Bill 4925, introduced by Rep. Marilyn Lane (D-Fraser) would enable the state to partner with private companies to operate and charge tolls on highways or added lanes.

It’s part of a package of bipartisan bills that aim to raise an extra $500 million a year to repair the state’s crumbling infrastructure, announced in April by House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) and passed through two House Committees last week. The primary purpose of the package is to allow the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) to enter into “public-private partnerships” on road projects as so many other states have done.

Michigan has never had toll roads, but toll roads  are now found in 29 U.S. states.

The toll roads bill falls in line with a federal transportation bill proposed in early May that would make it easier to come to fruition. The federal government has put restrictions on states placing tolls on most interstate highways built with federal funds, but the federal transportation bill would remove those restrictions.

The toll roads proposal was not highlighted in news releases about the road funding package. And so it seems lawmakers are trying to sneak in the new system that would tax drivers.

Rep. Lane told the Detroit Free Press in a recent story, “House bill called sneaky route to toll roads in Michigan,” that toll roads “at major crossings,” such as Michigan’s borders with Ontario and neighboring states, should be part of the conversation. But she has no plan to push for toll roads, and toll revenues are not included in the $500-million target.

As an accident lawyer, I’m somewhat torn on the issue of  toll roads.  Many of my clients and people I help have been injured in car accidents this past winter and were hurt by other people trying to dodge potholes.  Unfortunately, many of the drivers trying to dodge potholes ended up with part of their vehicles in the opposing lane of travel.

It’s an absurd situation – people literally being forced to wreck their cars or chance driving into another lane of traffic and causing a crash.  I tell this to my friends and fellow attorneys in other states – even those who practice in other states with Midwestern winters like ours – and they look at me in disbelief that I have clients who are being hurt by other people dodging potholes because our roads are so bad.

And it’s also bad for our state and our economy. As a Michigander, I know our roads and crumbling infrastructure make Michigan less attractive to others considering moving or working here, or establishing new businesses.  But I still feel if there was a way to pay for this and still avoid toll roads, that would be the better option. There may not be other viable options, but toll roads strike me as almost an infringement of our personal freedom and liberty.

But I really want to know what our readers think about being taxed to drive.

Would you support a new toll road system?

Let us know by making a comment below, or on our Michigan Auto Law Facebook page.

– Photo courtesy of Creative Commons, by Lindsay Kinkade

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