When we think of tollways, we picture the traffic-slowing arm that stops movement for a few measly coins. It’s about as popular as a Packers loss. But, with a funding shortfall for Wisconsin roads, the state needs to get creative to keep maintenance up to speed.

The current budget is a projected $1 billion short and former Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb says it would take 70 years to rebuild Wisconsin’s interstates with current funding levels. That figure doesn’t include the many state and US arteries we use on a daily basis.

To find more money, the legislature has multiple ideas. One is raising the gas tax. Another is tollways.

Technology has replaced the cumbersome coin booths, with a mobile radio device that goes inside your car to tally charges. You can get in your car and go, with the device connecting your account to an invoice system called “open road tolling.” It’s featured with the I-PASS system in Illinois and by MnPASS in the Twin Cities.

Tollway pros:

  • Reduced congestion for tollway users
  • Through private financing, tollways can be built and repaired faster
  • Increased revenue
  • Rates can vary based on congestion

Tollway cons:

  • Additional expenses of driving
  • Tolls may disproportionately affect low-income drivers
  • Traffic can increase along neighboring free roads
  • Tolls create a burden on out of state drivers and commerce

Safety and maintenance

There are two sides to the coin when it comes to toll roads, but when funding for highways is in the red, it creates a public danger. A crumbling surface, potholes and even poorly painted lane markings make driving more dangerous, especially along high-speed corridors like Wisconsin’s interstates.

Road condition is an often-overlooked cause of accidents and injuries. Driver’s using an unsafe road may not be at fault of their crash in the right circumstances. Improper maintenance puts Wisconsin drivers in danger, which means that the state will need to act on the budget problems facing our state’s highways sooner than later. Otherwise, the state will be paying the cost of liability in addition to any repair work. 

Do tollways offer a solution to the funding problem?