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Will tolls solve our Michigan road problems? Here's how much they would cost drivers

Driving a Car
Posted at 12:11 PM, Jan 23, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-23 18:20:21-05

(WXYZ) — Lawmakers in Lansing are looking over a new report that suggests converting Michigan highways to toll roads could be the answer to our road problems.

RELATED: Toll roads in Michigan? New law to study whether tolls can help fix roads

The research study was put together by the Michigan Department of Transportation, HNTB, a Missouri-based engineering firm, and CDM Smith, a Boston-based engineering firm.

The experts analyzed all 31 highways in Michigan and determined that 14 could become toll roads, including large portions of interstates 75, 94, and 96.

RELATED: These are the highways MDOT wants to study to become possible toll roads

"Our roads are pretty bad, I think it’s kind of like a running joke," said Dana Cooper of Detroit.

Michigan’s bad roads — it's one of the top issues Michigan policymakers have debated over for years.

"It's one of the reasons I’ve had so many busted tires and rims," said Dana.

Now in 2023, the new potential solution is being reviewed by Governor Whitmer and state lawmakers.

"I think tolling is ridiculous because we already pay enough taxes," said one driver.

A controversial idea, the strategic plan comes from this statewide tolling study.

Their research suggests that Michigan could generate $1 billion a year to fix our roads by charging drivers tolls to use nearly 1,200 miles of state highways.

"If it works in our favor of fixing the roads then OK. We gotta get the roads done," said Michael Black, who lives in Detroit.

The tolls would most likely be all electric. A sign would show users what they are going to be charged and cameras would take a picture of your license plate — and mail you an invoice later on. This cuts out the need for tolling booths and allows drivers to continue at highway speeds.

"Really the biggest takeaway that the study shows in my opinion is it just highlights that highway tolls are feasible in the state of Michigan, and it could generate a substantial amount of money," said State Rep. Pat Outman, Republican vice chair of the House Transportation Committee.

Rep. Outman will be reviewing the final versions of this report and told 7 Action News while the state does need to be careful about placing any additional burdens on drivers, this idea is “pretty exciting.”

"The bottom line is we do need to continue to prioritize our road funding and with the declining revenue in regards to the electrification of vehicles, all options should be on the table," he said.

Governor Whitmer’s team confirmed they’re reviewing the findings and that they’re “committed to continue fixing the damn roads and bridges."

She spoke about toll roads in an interview in 2019:

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer tells us why toll roads won't work in Michigan

In one report scenario, drivers would be charged 6 cents per highway mile — trucks may pay as much as four times more, and tolls would be waived for low-income drivers.

According to the report, the total program cost from 2026 to 2031 would be $8.5 billion, funded by toll revenue bonds.

After 2031, tolls revenue would fund all ongoing construction, operations, and maintenance in addition to debt service on the bonds.

The report anticipates the state launching the program by 2028 beginning with parts of I-94.

For it to pass, both Whitmer and the legislature would need to approve, a feat Michigan has not yet seen when it comes to road funding.

"It’s one of those things where the devil is gonna be in the details and we need to be very careful and diligent about how we would even implement something like this," said Rep. Outman.