SALT LAKE CITY — A bill allowing electronic monitoring to assess road tolls won final Senate approval Tuesday after being changed to make it possible for tolling on any state road.
Currently, only new or expanded roads can be subject to tolls. But SB71, sponsored by Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, was substituted to extend the ability to toll to existing capacity roads.
"We want everyone to be able to pay for the usage of roads," the sponsor of the substitute, Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, said, not just residents of newly developed and growing communities.
Niederhauser endorsed what he called a "fairness issue."
"I was focused more on modernizing the statute. But this is absolutely right because we can't have this policy just in growth areas," the Senate president said. "This policy has to be statewide and available on any road."
SB71 passed 26-3, after several senators questioned the process used to make such a signficant change.
"Yes, it can be done. The question is should it be done. This has caught me a little bit by surprise," said Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville. He voted against the substituted bill, saying it gave him pause.
Harper, the co-chairman of the Legislature's Transportation Governance and Funding Task Force, is sponsoring a sweeping bill that contains a number of fee and tax increases to pay for transportation needs.
Niederhauser has made it clear he sees a need for more revenue to be raised for roads, often pointing out that gas taxes fall some $600 million short of meeting the state's transportation budget.
But when the bill was initially considered by the Senate on Monday, Niederhauser spelled out that he was running it to allow for tolling in Little Cottonwood Canyon, a road he said qualified because lawmakers agreed last year to add a lane.
He said later he wanted Monday's discussion to be centered around allowing tolls to be assessed by electronically reading license plates. Niederhauser said he was not sure the change made Tuesday would be accepted in the House.
Senate Majority Whip Stuart Adams, R-Layton, the chairman of the Utah Transportation Commission, said the public would have plenty of input into any new tolls imposed by the Utah Department of Transportation under the bill.
"If they get out of line, we’ll bring it back and try to deal with it," Adams told reporters, promising the process for designating any toll roads would be open and transparent.
Niederhauser told reporters it is better to take those decisions out of the political realm and put them in the hands of UDOT, rather than give state lawmakers that authority.
He said many of the details about electronic tolling would be left up to UDOT and said it could be several years before they would be imposed.