Senate approves I80 toll bill

CASPER — Wyoming’s Senate approved a bill on Friday morning that would allow the state to charge drivers a toll when trekking across Interstate 80. 

The Wyoming Department of Transportation faces a multi-million budget deficit. But legislators have been largely adverse to backing any revenue-generating bills. 

Senate File 73 has become one of very few tax bills advanced this session to help the cash-strapped state. 

The lead sponsor of the bill, Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, said the proceeds generated from a toll on the state’s main east-west thoroughfare would go toward much-needed road and bridge maintenance, traffic safety improvements or wildlife management. 

“Suffice it to say, I’m asking you to think really big,” Case told the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday. “Because we have a unique opportunity to change our future course in a way that makes a significant contribution to Wyoming’s revenue needs (and) makes a significant contribution to keep I-80 a world-class highway that will pay its own way for maybe the next half century.” 

A tolling program would not be instituted immediately and would take some time to implement.

The bill asks the Department of Transportation to make a master plan for a highway toll system.

That includes determining how much drivers would be charged. 

If the bill is signed into law, the Legislature would still have the power to reject the Transportation Department’s proposed toll program down the road. 

The debate over tolls is a familiar one to many in the Legislature. Similar bills have been pitched multiple times, but failed, in years past. 

But some lawmakers have said this could be the year the Legislature bites at the proposal, given the state’s revenue shortfall and ongoing decline in taxes collected from coal, oil and natural gas.

The Wyoming Department of Transportation’s shortfall runs upward of $350 million, according to a reported shared with lawmakers in November. The department has experienced recent cuts, including the closure of rest stops and delayed construction projects. 

The bill will now move to the House for consideration.