I-80 tolls: A Stupid Idea

In my former life I was an attorney for the Wyoming Dept. of Revenue, which operated the ports of entry at places, inter alia, Evanston, Cheyenne and points east.  I once held a truckload of  National Enquirers at the Cheyenne port for 12 hours because the truck had expired codes.  The Chicago market was waiting.  I talked to a lot of cocky attorneys. We got our money.

I-80 serves two classes of traffic: intra state and interstate.  Semi traffic on I- 80 is relentless, and most of it is crossing the state.  They are carrying 70 to 90 thousand pounds per truck.  (I don’t follow the details any more, so maybe these numbers are antiquated.)  Whenever a semi approaches a port of entry, it either reports in via the pre-pass automated system or it pulls in, goes over the scales, and pays manually.  In any event, it pays.

I am willing to let the intrastate traffic use I-80 and only pay fuel tax (a few cents per gallon), which is one of the lowest taxes in the nation.  We should increase the fuel tax.  That way all users pay for highway repair.  This takes care of the intrastate users.  And if you want to haul an overweight load, pay more.

Gone are the days of the interstate truckers with two sets of books.  We have computers. They appear to be useless in catching Nigerian terrorists, but they might work for California-to-Chicago truckers who use I-80.  They check in at Evanston and report whether they are dumping their load in WY or going on to NE.  Instead of building toll booths, just add to their transit fee.  If they lie and say they are dumping in Rock Springs and 12 hours later pass the Pine Bluffs port, the computer will catch them.  (Maybe.  The Port of Entry  people would need to be alert.)

Or, we could build huge toll stations all across I-80.  We would have to pay for construction and 24-hour staffing. Which union would vie for that contract?  Okay, maybe you like unions; I am not judgmental sometimes, but union wages and benefits = operating expenses.  Then the truckers try to dodge the toll stations by beating the tar out of our secondary highways, so we could erect weigh stations on those highways, which means more expense.

And the toll stations back up traffic, inconveniencing families and business travelers.  Further, why should families in their Toyotas pay a toll for maintenance of highways pounded by interstate truckers?

The solution:  just charge more at the ports of entry.  Yes, you will miss a few targets, but no system is perfect.

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