Putting toll booths on interstate highways likely wouldn’t be popular in North Idaho, local experts said. And it might even be counterproductive.
President Clinton’s proposed six-year highway funding bill would give states the option of using toll booths. Current law allows tolls to be charged only to build a new piece of interstate.
The Potato State may not rush to the opportunity. Part of the problem is that some people perceive government highway agencies as dollar-eating bureaucracies.
“The dollars for highways don’t necessarily go to pavement and potholes,” said John Goedde, who studies transportation issues for the Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce. If the state could convince people the toll dollars were going to fix specific roads, “it might be more palatable.”
Tolls might drive other income away. In 1995 for example, people driving cars and trucks brought an estimated $643 million to Idaho tourism in Region 1 - which runs from Kootenai County on north, Goedde said.
“A lot of that money, I would think, would be attributable to I-90,” he said.
Another potential toll problem: the large number of people from Coeur d’Alene and Shoshone County who commute to Spokane to work. “That might be the straw that would move them over the Washington state line,” he said.
Or they might take Trent Avenue through Newman Lake and Rathdrum and “that would be an invitation for disaster,” Goedde said.
Rep. Hilde Kellogg, R-Post Falls, is making an optional toll part of her pitch for rerouting and rebuilding U.S. Highway 95. And while she personally doesn’t mind tolls, she questions their popularity and usefulness on interstates.
“You don’t have the heavy traffic for miles and miles, where it would make sense,” Kellogg said.
The Idaho Department of Transportation isn’t taking a position without giving it extensive analysis.
“We would have to look at what interstates, what the alternate routes are, the daily traffic, how much would be charged, where the toll booths would be located and what it would cost to run them,” said Jeff Stratten, a Transportation Department spokesman. “I think traffic is the key.”