Cars travel on Interstate 80

Cars travel on Interstate 80 on Saturday, April 13, 2019, in Cheyenne. Wyoming Tribune Eagle/file

CHEYENNE – With the state facing more than $100 million in annual unmet road needs, the head of the Wyoming Department of Transportation offered his support Thursday for a funding option that’s gained momentum in other Western states.

WYDOT Director Luke Reiner told state lawmakers that a per-mile road usage charge was an option worth considering during the first day of a two-day Joint Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Interim Committee meeting.

“I see this as ... an acceptable, sustainable, feasible solution to revenue for roads in the state of Wyoming, and would recommend that we pursue it,” Reiner said. “I’m convinced that with the involvement with stakeholders who are committed to getting to ‘Yes,’ and with legislative assistance, primarily from this committee, I think we can solve this problem, and I think this is a good way to go.”

The per-mile charges would be required of all road users, though rates could be structured so that drivers who cause less road damage pay less.

Drivers would have a wide range of options, including plug-in devices, mobile apps and odometer readings, for reporting their miles, and the program would also require payments from out-of-state visitors.

The revenue-raising option, pitched as a more sustainable one than fuel tax increases, has gained momentum in several Western states. Utah and Oregon recently implemented their versions of the program, and several others are seriously considering their own.

In recent weeks, Reiner collaborated with a group that included the Wyoming Trucking Association and the Wyoming County Commissioners Association to explore the option, and the department also hired the consulting firm WSP, which worked with Oregon on its program.

The proposal comes after the Wyoming Legislature has repeatedly rejected proposals to toll Interstate 80. In this year’s budget session, a bill to create a master I-80 tolling plan, which would have considered ways to exclude Wyoming drivers, failed introduction in the Senate, with nearly two-thirds of legislators in opposition.

If the state were to establish a road usage charge program, it would go a long way to answering the long-term funding questions facing the state Department of Transportation. Initial WYDOT projections show a program with a penny-per-mile rate, which would be half a cent lower than those in Oregon and Utah, would bring the state roughly $104 million in annual revenue.

After Reiner and representatives from the WSP consulting firm presented the basics of the program, committee members took no action on the proposal, instead opting to wait until their July meeting. Committee co-chair Sen. Michael Von Flatern, R-Gillette, who has repeatedly supported tolling measures, thanked the director for “thinking outside the box a little bit.”

“We’re hoping you can come up a way that costs the residents of Wyoming very little money ... but (also) to fulfill the $135 million we’re missing on the repairs to roads and the overlays and the modifications and things,” Von Flatern said. “We hope you can figure out how to get there.”

After their May meeting wraps up Friday, the Joint Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee will have its next meeting July 10. Like this month’s meeting, it is scheduled to be held virtually.

Tom Coulter is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s state government reporter. He can be reached at tcoulter@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3124. Follow him on Twitter at @tomcoulter_.

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