Arizona lawmaker favors toll roads to raise money

State struggles to find additional funds to build new highways

News The Associated Press November 16, 2007
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Arizona lawmaker favors toll roads to raise money
State struggles to find additional funds to build new highways

Arizona needs a solution for a source of money to build new highways, and Rep. Andy Biggs believes he has it: toll roads.

Using private financing to build toll roads seems the "most doable" option for Arizona, Biggs, co-chairman of a special legislative committee studying transportation ideas, said Nov. 15.

Despite unpopularity—Gov. Janet Napolitano and other officials don't support the idea—many lawmakers feel introducing toll roads would be more acceptable than raising gasoline or sales taxes.

"Initially it was a closed door and nobody would even consider it, but now I think people are saying within certain parameters and certain constraints on new facilities, that it may be something that we should consider," Biggs said. "Reality has set in."

Biggs said a variety of options are available in so-called public-private partnerships. In some scenarios, the state enters into a contract with private businesses, which build and maintain new highways, collecting the tolls for a set number of years while the state retains ownership. Contract terms can vary.

Biggs said he'd demand that tolls only be placed on privately financed new routes and only those that have free alternatives for motorists. “That would be unfair" if those conditions weren’t met, he said.

Possible candidates for toll roads, which would be constructed with private investment financing, could include select new Phoenix metro-area roads such as a highway around South Mountain and bypasses and alternatives to long-distance highways elsewhere in the state, Biggs said.

Biggs said he has agreed to consider all options but opposes any tax increase.

He said he likes the gas tax as a user fee in theory, but that said it would have to be raised to a politically unacceptable 45 cents to be worthwhile.

"Even the ones that want to raise the tax say that's unpalatable," Biggs said.

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