Wisconsin business leaders raise concerns on highway tolling

MADISON — Wisconsin business leaders say a plan to introduce highway tolling to help pay for road work could hurt the economy.

Some members of the state's business lobby and members of the tourism, hospitality and manufacturing sectors told The Wisconsin State Journal (http://bit.ly/2rQbGbt) that tolls could deter tourists, increase the cost of transporting goods and limit highway access.

In a recent statement, the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce business lobby said that it's "greatly concerned about the impact tolling will have on the cost to move manufactured goods and agricultural products."

Tom Diehl, president of the Association of Wisconsin Tourism Attractions, said tolling will negatively impact residents.

"You're going to start ripping off the general public going to and from work every day," Diehl said.

The response calls into question whether lawmakers will back tolling when some of their powerful and deep-pocketed allies oppose it.

Some agricultural groups may be open to the toll. Tamas Houlihan, director of the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association, said his group knows the state needs more revenue for roads and bridges and will leave the decision about tolls up to legislators.

The plan would require federal approval because under current law states can only begin tolling in limited forms. A federal program allows states to have broader scale interstate tolls if they apply and are accepted for it.

Supporters of tolling said it would create a long-term revenue source for the state's interstates, many of which were built in the 1960s and need to be rebuilt.

New technology allows for tolls to be collected electronically with vehicle transponders collecting information about which vehicles use the highway. A study released by the state Department of Transportation in December estimates the plan would take at least four years to implement and could cost as much as $400 million.