As road-building funds become scarce, tolls gain traction

Paying for new roads is a lot like eating your veggies. You've gotta do it, even if it's not appealing.

Well, the country has a plateful of road and bridge work — the broccoli, if you will — that will cost us more money than we have.

The question facing the country: How do we pay for roads in an appetizing way? An increasingly popular answer: more tolls.

In the Kansas City area, Missouri is looking at building a carpool lane on Interstate 70 that would charge a toll for single drivers in a rush.

And two Kansas lawmakers have suggested a tollway in western Johnson County to serve trucks from a proposed freight hub in Gardner.

Both are signs that transportation leaders are looking beyond gasoline tax revenue, which isn't going as far because of inflation and the popularity of fuel-efficient cars.

"We have to find a way to maintain and build additional highways in the state of Kansas," said state Rep. Arlen Siegfreid, an Olathe Republican who has proposed a toll road from southern Johnson County to I-70.

"Tolling is a viable option, and it's a preferable option to raising taxes. The people who actually use the road pay for it."

But toll roads have plenty of critics, especially where roads have been leased to private companies to run.

If tolls are placed on existing roads, critics see them as a way to charge taxpayers twice. And they don't like a government monopoly that gives drivers little opportunity to influence the fees or management of the roads.

Nor do critics like Missouri's idea of charging single drivers to use a carpool lane.

Engineers call them high-occupancy toll, or HOT lanes, but naysayers dub them "Lexus lanes" because richer people are more likely to pay the lug.

"I think a lot of people are thinking outside the so-called box, and they're trying to solve a very large problem with a very small solution," said Mike Right, a spokesman for AAA Missouri. "Tolls aren't going to generate enough revenue to meet the transportation needs of the state or the region."


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