Utah toll road bill heads to state House

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A Utah bill that would allow the state and private investors to build toll roads together advanced this week when the House Transportation Committee sent it to the full House. The Salt Lake Tribune reported Monday, Feb. 20 that the Senate already has approved the proposal, meaning it needs the OK of the House before going to the governor for his signature or veto.

Syracuse Republican Sen. Sheldon Killpack’s SB80 would allow such public-private partnerships to build toll roads anywhere in the state. Killpack said the first likely target would be the Mountain View Corridor planned to stretch 35 miles from Salt Lake City International Airport to Pleasant Grove. Under SB80, the state would own the roadway, land and right of way. A private partner would construct the road, provide the billions of dollars needed to finance it and then operate it as a concession.

The bill doesn’t authorize toll roads, which already are allowed under Utah law. What’s new is that it sanctions public-private partnerships. The controlling contract would put the state Transportation Commission in charge of deciding what the tolls would be, when they could be raised, and what the cap would be. The contract would last for as long as the private partners needed to recoup their investment and could allow the private investors to pay the state more than the actual cost of building the road. The extra money could be used to shore up road infrastructure elsewhere.

Dave Creer, executive director of the Utah Trucking Association, spoke against the bill, arguing that Mountain View Corridor would be a natural freight corridor, but having to pay tolls would result in higher costs to consumers. But Killpack maintains that highway congestion could be solved only by building roads now, and the only way to do that was to have private investors pay for them up front. “Nothing is more expensive for the private sector than having our trucks warehoused on the freeway,” Killpack told the Tribune. “Those costs get passed on.”