Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Utah State Senator Sheldon Killpack Wants To Backdoor Toll Roads In Utah Via "Congestion Pricing"

Update January 15th, 2009: Post on Killpack's DUI arrest available HERE.


Utah State Senator Sheldon Killpack (R-Syracuse, pictured at left), who, according to one wag, never met a transportation levy he didn't like, is once again beating the drum for higher levies on Utah motorists to pay for more roads. Among his pet proposals - a possible increase in Utah's fuel tax from its current 24.5 cents per gallon to 40 cents per gallon, and "congestion pricing" for some of Northern Utah's most heavily-traveled highways. Full stories from KSL Channel 5 and the Salt Lake Tribune.

Killpack, along with Stuart Adams, the chairman of the Utah Transportation Commission, made the case for increasing taxes and fees to pay for roads during a panel discussion on Tuesday May 13th, 2008 at the Utah Taxpayers Association's "Taxes Now Conference". However, with gas prices averaging $3.60 per gallon, increases in any state levies are unlikely prior to the November election.

Cited Justification for Increased Levies:

- From 1990 to 2007, there was a 47 percent increase in state population and a 71 percent increase in miles driven, but only a 4 percent increase in road capacity.

- There is still a $16 billion need for new or widened highways and main roads in cities, but federal contributions are slowing while Utah's population is growing twice as fast as the rest of the nation.

- Current projects, such as the Legacy Highway, or planned, such as the widening of Interstate 15 in Utah County are not fully funded.

Adams and Killpack suggested raising the flat-rate tax on gasoline, or indexing the gas tax so it's a percentage of the price of fuel instead of a per-gallon levy. But Killpack prefers to increase taxes only as a last option. So he proposes "congestion pricing", which is nothing less than a part-time toll. And if you read the public comments appended to both media stories linked above, Utahns don't like the idea, and neither do I. Once again, the public is being asked to pony up for services already paid for through other taxation simply because neither the state government nor the federal government is willing to control spending.

Killpack explained his lust for tolls. "We're never going to be able to build our way out of congestion, and with our current economic structure, we're never going to be able to buy our way out of congestion," said Killpack.

But Dan England, chairman of C.R. England Trucking and a representative of the Utah Trucking Association, has a big problem with "congestion pricing". He said that although he and his group can support a fuel tax increase of 5 cents, they cannot support the idea of charging more for travel during high-use times.

"Congestion pricing presupposes that people have a choice when they are on the roads," England said. "But we have schedules we have to follow. We can't control when our trucks our out on the roads." England also predicts "a lot of opposition" from residents and legislators to congestion pricing. That opposition is already being manifested in the comments section to the media stories.

However, the integrity of C.R. England's observations is hindered by the fact that some drivers have registered complaints about how the company treats them. One particularly egregious complaint is documented HERE, and C.R. England is on a "shit list" posted HERE.

To counter C.R. England's claims, Chuck Chappel, executive director of the Wasatch Front Regional Council, says congestion pricing could revolutionize the way people view their commutes. "Over time, people will take shorter trips due to congestion pricing," Chappel said. "People right now continue to live farther and farther out from their work, but people will begin to live closer to their jobs."

And Killpack insists that giving people an economic incentive to stay off the roads during high-congestion times is the only way to change driver behavior, and the money from such programs would help the state pay for new roads. "People want a better transportation system," Killpack said. "But they don't want to pay for it." But this exposes another problem with government - the desire to legislate behavior modification. The organic mission of government is to provide essential services, not to engage in the social engineering which jacks up costs and impinges upon fundamental liberty.

Sheldon Killpack's romance with toll roads is not a one-night stand; it is a full-blown long-term affair. Eransworld.com tells us that in 2005, Killpack not only drafted a bill to allow toll roads to be built by private companies on state-owned land, but also hiked vehicle fees to buy land for transportation projects. And a Provo Daily Herald article from January 2006 reveals that UDOT has actually envisioned not only tolling the Mountain View Corridor, but also the northern corridor out of St. George and all of U.S. Highway 6 in Central Utah. If this isn't stopped now, Utahns will wake up in ten years to find ALL major state roads tolled. And don't be surprised if foreign contractors are allowed to take the toll proceedings. DigitalSundance also provides some useful perspective about Killpack.

However, modified tolling schemes, such as that proposed in the United Kingdom where one lane could be designated as a tolled "express" lane or "Lexus" lane shouldn't be ruled out, because the free service would still be available.

Unfortunately, residents of District 21 cannot hold Sheldon Killpack electorally accountable during the 2008 election cycle, since he's not up for election until 2010. But you can let him know that if he continues to push for "congestion pricing" and tolling, he will get "Buttared" and defeated. You can review Killpack's voting record at VoteSmart. Contact information for Senator Killpack HERE.

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