Let's face it, there are no free roads. You either pay for highways and bridges with taxes or tolls. Congress has shown little interest in raising the federal gas tax — which has not been raised in 23 years.That's the perspective you'd expect of a representative of the turnpike operators' trade association (in a world of governance by Wise Experts, every collection of rent seekers has a trade association.) But you run out of rents to dissipate.
No doubt, the highways in Wisconsin and across the nation are crumbling. Tolling creates a steady revenue stream with which to maintain and operate highways and bridges. Toll roads are based on the simplest of premises: You use it, you pay for it. Let me be clear: tolling is one funding option and not for every road.
Think about what toll roads might mean for a crossroads state such as Wisconsin. Sure, Wisconsinites who used such roads would pay — but so would the out-of-state travelers passing through and the vacationers heading to Wisconsin Dells and other popular spots.
You may be thinking: "I'm not paying for roads that my tax dollars already financed." But your tax money only built the road; more funding is needed to cover maintenance, repair and improvements, which is why most U.S. roads are in such bad shape.To the extent that tolls are inadequate to rebuild roads, perhaps it's time to retrench the road network.
Drivers and policy-makers are realizing the benefits of tolled facilities. This week, which is Infrastructure Week 2016, Wisconsin should seriously consider joining the 35 states currently leveraging tolling.