Senate approves bill expanding tolling on Kansas highways

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The Kansas Senate on Tuesday approved a bill that for the first time could expand tolling beyond the Kansas Turnpike.

The bill, backed by Gov. Laura Kelly’s administration, changes state law so that tolls no longer have to cover the entire cost of a highway project, meaning that tolling could be used elsewhere in the state if it made sense.

The Senate passed the bill 38-1. A similar bill was scheduled to be debate in the Kansas House later Tuesday.

Highway officials said the existing tolling law may no longer prove useful since the state has looked at tolling several roads in recent years and none carried enough traffic to generate the money needed to pay for an entire project.

“This is a great step forward to modernizing the way Kansas approaches proper checks and balances,” Acting Transportation Secretary Julie Lorenz said in a statement.

“During the transportation vision task force, communities expressed the need to have more tools for raising funds for transportation improvements,” Lorenz said.

“With local support, communities will be able to use tolling as a tool to provide a local match for transportation improvements.”

The bill would authorize the transportation secretary to study potential toll roads around the state.

The secretary would be required to work with local governments to determine if a toll road is feasible.

The bill would limit new tolling to projects that add capacity — such as an express lane — that did not previously exist.

Highway officials stress that no road that is free today would be tolled under the bill.

The state, for instance, would not be able to use tolls to pay for routine maintenance on an existing highway.

Tolls would only be charged to drivers using the extra highway or bridge capacity. Money from the tolls also would be limited to paying for the road project they financed.

The bill came in response to a recommendation made by the state’s transportation task force last year.

The task force recommended tolling as another way to pay for expanding highway capacity without relying on other more traditional funding sources, such as a gas tax or a sales tax.

Tolling has been used increasingly as a method for paying for roads, bridges and tunnels.

The Federal Highway Administration reports that in 2017, there were about 5,600 miles of toll roads either on interstates or noninterstates. That’s up from about 4,800 miles in 2007, an increase of about 17 percent.

The bill would require the transportation secretary and the local governments to prepare a tolling proposal that must be approved by the Kansas Turnpike Authority and the state Finance Council.

The turnpike authority and the Finance Council must approve resolutions endorsing the project before construction could start.