I-80 in Western Iowa
Photo Credit: Nicholas A. Tonelli (CC-By-2.0)

The Des Moines Register published a story about an Iowa DOT report addressing the feasibility of introducing tolls on I-80 to pay for an expansion from four lanes to six lanes in rural Iowa.

The study determined that tolls would be a financially feasible option for financing the expansion. Which, when you read the report, you can see how they came to that conclusion. Tolls would help fund a project like that.

Politically, however, it is a non-starter.

They acknowledge the challenges in the report:

  • Some traffic would divert to other highways to avoid paying a toll, potentially affecting the overall highway system.
  • Some travelers may not be supportive of paying tolls for an improved I-80, in addition to current fuel taxes.
  • They would have to get approval from the Federal Highway Administration and pass legislation to enable the collection of tolls.

I have lived in three areas that collected tolls. In Chicago, while I was college tolls were a nightmare. This was before the invention of the I-Pass that collect tolls electronically. It was expensive, it made traffic an even greater nightmare on I-294 during rush hour than it already was.

When I lived in NW Indiana and SE Florida that also had some toll road I largely avoided those roads when possible. It was next to impossible to avoid tolls in the Chicago area.

Considering Iowa recently raised its gas tax by $.10 per gallon I find it highly unlikely that Iowans would support the introduction of toll roads. Personally, I would be open to them if the legislature eliminated the gas tax, but that would be the only way I could support a toll road in Iowa.

Also, while the Iowa Department of Transportation’s report said it was a financially feasible option, doesn’t mean they have plans to go that direction.

State Representative Dean Fisher (R-Montour) on Facebook said it appeared the Des Moines Register was “busy trying to make news instead of just reporting it.” He said the Iowa DOT legislative liaison contacted him. He wrote:

It’s inaccurate to say that the DOT is recommending or pursuing tolling at this time. DOT Director Mark Lowe confirmed the DOT discussed the results of the study and determined it would not recommend or pursue tolling on I-80 and is not doing any further study of tolling, for the following reasons:

  • It doesn’t work well in our open, farm-to-market grid system and pushes traffic to roads that are not built for interstate traffic.
  • It’s not authorized by state or federal law.
  • It’s not consistent with our “pay as you go” approach to road and bridge funding and diverts road funds to servicing debt.
  • It’s generally not favored by industry groups or the public.

So, I wouldn’t expect toll roads in Iowa anytime soon, if ever.

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