CHEYENNE — With about a third of Wyoming’s roads already in subpar condition and a structural lack of revenue to repair them, lawmakers advanced a bill Monday that would charge people on a per-mile basis for how much they drive in the state.
The per-mile road usage charge, which some states have already rolled out in pilot programs, essentially treats roads like a utility; you pay for what you use. Members of the Joint Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Interim Committee ultimately decided to advanced the proposal during their meeting Monday, though lawmakers acknowledged many details still needed to be parsed.
Wyoming Department of Transportation Director Luke Reiner, who led a working group with several stakeholders to study the funding options, told lawmakers that a road usage charge, or RUC, had the best long-term potential of revenue sources they looked at.
WYDOT currently lacks a projected $135 million out of what it needs each year to maintain the state’s roads and bridges.
“Our percentage of poor roads are increasing, and our percentage of good roads are decreasing,” Reiner said Monday. “That’s just the trend lines that we don’t want in our state when you think about the key, critical importance of our infrastructure.”
Reversing that trend, however, could come at a cost to Wyoming drivers. For residents with cars, the road usage charge would translate to an average payment of about $20 per month, while it would cost pickup drivers roughly $28 per month.
That charge compares to a monthly average of about $10 that residents currently pay through the state’s fuel tax, Reiner said. Residents who pay the RUC would get a credit for what they pay in fuel taxes, while drivers from out of state would still have to pay the state’s existing fuel tax, plus an added RUC parity charge.
“It was very important to us that out-of-staters continued to pay,” Reiner said.
The state’s road needs will only become more costly if state lawmakers, who have repeatedly rejected proposals to toll Interstate 80, are unable to agree on a new funding stream.
“If we delay, our costs just rise exponentially,” Reiner said. “I do think it’s fiscally conservative for us to maintain what we have, because it’s less money in the long run.”
Representatives from the Colorado Wyoming Petroleum Marketers Association and the Wyoming Trucking Association, meanwhile, were open to the proposal, though they were inclined to support a national or regional RUC system, rather than state-level ones.
While the committee ultimately advanced the proposal for consideration during the legislative session in January, some had reservations. Rep. Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne, who voted against the bill, said there were too many unanswered questions to move forward with it for now.
“What I think we have right here is a very large problem that’s going to take more than one interim (session) to probably decide,” Brown said. “We really have not put enough time into this to get down to the nitty gritty on some of these issue that we have here.”
The majority on the committee, however, felt the bill needed to go forward, especially given WYDOT’s funding woes.
“If we get to the point in session where we don’t like it, we can vote against it. ... But we just cannot keep putting this off,” Sen. Stephan Pappas, R-Cheyenne, said. “If you think we’re gonna have problems now, just wait another two years, and we are going to be in dire straits.”
Others on the committee agreed that the proposal needed to go before the full body of lawmakers. With the 10-2 approval of the committee, the bill will be considered during the Legislature’s general session, which is set to start in mid-January.