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Should Wisconsin consider toll roads to address an anticipated decline in gas tax revenue?

The growing popularity of electric and hybrid vehicles has some lawmakers raising that question due to concerns about the impact on the state’s gas tax.
Wisconsin business leaders raise concerns on highway tolling
Posted at 7:07 PM, Mar 03, 2023

MILWAUKEE — Should Wisconsin transition to toll roads? The growing popularity of electric and hybrid vehicles has some lawmakers raising that question due to concerns about the impact on the state’s gas tax.

Dwayne Roshell of Milwaukee drives a big truck that costs about $50 to $70 dollars each week to fill up. Each gallon of gas that flows into his vehicle comes with a 30.9 cent state gas tax, which is Wisconsin’s largest revenue generator to pay for highway and road improvement projects.

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As more drivers buy electric vehicles and more automakers commit to phasing out gas-guzzling cars in the years ahead, Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said earlier this week that he believes it’s time to consider an alternative funding source: toll roads on freeways. It's an idea he's floated for the past decade.

The potential solution comes with frustration for Roshell.

“It don't make any sense,” Roshell said. “They're getting money off everything else, what do we need tolls for?"

"You can't just push this problem off,” said Robert Poole.

Poole is the Transportation Policy Director for the Reason Foundation, a non-partisan research organization based out of Los Angeles. He was hired to study this issue last year in Wisconsin.

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"Roads don't last forever, they need constant maintenance,” he said.

Wisconsin is one of just 15 states that do not have toll roads.

“Does your research suggest it’s time for Wisconsin to join the majority there?” TMJ4 reporter Ben Jordan asked.

"It really does because there's not a good alternative for doing the big ticket items which is the freeways and other interstates and if those are not addressed, Wisconsin is going to lose competitiveness among other states in the Midwest,” he said.

In recent years, Wisconsin implemented a $75 licensing fee for hybrid vehicles and a $100 fee for electric vehicles, but Poole says those fees don’t fully offset lost gas tax revenue.

He believes Wisconsin should move to a mileage-based toll system.

"If people accept it in Florida, Pennsylvania and Illinois, they can learn to love it in Wisconsin because the benefits are there and there's no real good alternative to fix the roads,” he said.

TMJ4 News asked Gov. Tony Evers’ administration for his perspective on toll roads. His staff pointed to his budget proposal which calls for another alternative that would take portions of tax revenue from the sale of electric vehicles, auto parts, vehicle repair services, and tires to bolster transportation funds.

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