Toll Roads

Vehicles heading south from Wisconsin on the Tri-State section of the Illinois Tollway stream through the Waukegan, Ill., toll plaza. U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is among many seeking long-term fixes for transportation funding and is open to allowing Wisconsin to pursue the idea of toll roads as an option. 

SCOTT ANDERSON, Journal Times file photo

RACINE COUNTY — U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan says he backs changing federal law on toll roads to give states more power.

Ryan, R-Wis., told The Journal Times Editorial Board this week that states shouldn’t be precluded from implementing tollways, as they are now. Toll roads have been favored by some locally, including both party leaders in the state Assembly, as a way to finance transportation.

Ryan didn’t say whether he would support toll roads in Wisconsin, but said states should have the right to explore it.

“It’s something that Wisconsin ought to have the freedom to choose,” said Ryan, whose district includes Racine County. “We shouldn’t be denied the ability to do it if we want to. That’s the point I would make. It’s more of a states rights thing.”

State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, have advocated tollways as a better long-term option for funding transportation than the gas tax, which has declined as cars become more fuel efficient.

But both have said toll roads won’t come to fruition soon since federal action is required.

Ryan said the House Transportation Committee may take up the issue this year.

Funding woes

The federal and state governments have struggled to find money for roads with a decline in revenues from the gas tax, which for Wisconsin is the single-biggest source of revenue for the state transportation fund.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker has proposed borrowing $1.3 billion for roads.

Ryan, meanwhile, is looking for a fix for the federal highway trust fund that’s due to go broke in May. That issue will come through the House Ways and Means Committee, which Ryan chairs.

“It’s sort of a good problem to have — we’re more efficient,” Ryan said. “But it means less revenue.”

Some ideas could work in the long-term — like fees based on how far cars travel and how big the vehicle is — but none are ready for prime time, Ryan said.

Relying on the gas tax is a losing proposition, but so far no better option has emerged, he said.

He added he supports more drilling for oil on federal lands, which he said will likely propose in the next highway bill as it could generate revenue for the highway trust fund.

“What I’m trying to do is figure out … a bridge financing piece to get us a highway bill until we can come up with a better system to finance us long term,” Ryan said.

“It’s something that Wisconsin ought to have the freedom to choose. We shouldn’t be denied the ability to do it if we want to.” — U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan
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