Bill Would Allow Privately Built Toll Roads on State Land

Bill Would Allow Privately Built Toll Roads on State Land

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A bill is being drafted that would allow for toll roads to be built by private companies on state-owned land.

The bill sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Killpack, R-Syracuse, would allow a private partner to finance and construct the road and then operate it as a concession.

The first such road could be along the Mountain View Corridor, stretching 35 miles from the Salt Lake City International Airport to Pleasant Grove.

"If we want to see the Mountain View Corridor anytime sooner than perhaps 20 years down the road, this certainly becomes a much more interesting option," Killpack said. "It's the difference between a toll road and no road."

According to transportation officials, Utah will need $16.5 billion during the next 25 years to keep commerce and traffic moving.

The state's 24.5-cent-per-gallon gas tax is losing buying power. Adding a nickel per gallon, as has been suggested, is regarded as politically impossible and wouldn't come close to solving the problem, anyway. At the same time, federal funding for highway projects is dwindling.

Lawmakers have been dipping into the general fund to augment the gas tax and also have taken money from the Centennial Highway Fund, a $3.35 billion, 11-year funding mechanism for statewide road building and repair established in 1997 after rural lawmakers complained about their constituents paying taxes to rebuild Interstate 15 in Salt Lake County.

An October transportation summit heavily emphasized toll road public-private partnerships already at work in 23 states, especially in Texas and California.

Under the Killpack plan, public funds still would be needed because toll revenue probably would not provide enough bonding capacity to cover a project's full cost.

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, Killpack said. The contract would last for as long as the private partners needed to recoup their investment.

"It may be a 50-year contract, it may be a 100-year contract," he said.

The state would retain a buy-out option. Killpack also proposes allowing unsolicited bids for projects, with the Utah Department of Transportation making the rules governing acceptance. The Legislature would have final bid approval.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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