Is It Time for Toll Roads in Michigan?

The debate on roads hinges upon who should shoulder the burden of Michigan’s crippling infrastructure.

Toll the damn roads? With a potential gas tax dead in the water, Michigan lawmakers are searching for a path forward on road funding. Could toll roads be the answer?

Senior Editor for Crain’s Detroit Business Chad Livengood thinks so, making the case for tolls in his new piece. Livengood and a more skeptical Detroit News Editorial Page Editor Nolan Finley join Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson to talk about the possibility of toll roads in Michigan. 

Click the player to hear the debate on toll roads in Michigan.

Laura Weber-Davis, WDET
Laura Weber-Davis, WDET

Livengood starts by taking aim at the existing construction on I-94, a project that he says is on track to span more than 20 years based on current funding and financing.

I-94, along with I-96, are major trucking routes, linking Toronto to Chicago. Livengood insists that Michigan does not receive meaningful revenue from truckers, despite the congestion this trade traffic produces. In fact, he insists we have some of the lowest fees for truckers in the Midwest. Tolls could be a means of capturing truckers use of this expressway while simultaneously generating funding for infrastructure repair. 

Isn’t it illegal to convert federal highways into toll roads?

Livengood busts this myth, stating that rebuilding a portion of the thoroughfare provides a loophole, allowing for the implementation of tolls. He admits it is a complicated maneuver and that it could result in a loss of federal funding, but it isn’t impossible. 

Jake Neher/WDET
Jake Neher/WDET

Nolan Finley is not completely sold on the idea of toll roads.

He wonders, outside of I-94, how many non-locals actually utilize the major expressways. Tolls could ultimately prove to be a nuisance for residents who use multiple freeways to get to and from work: in this case he would rather just pay at the pump. An alternative proposal Finley floated is that of a local millage to fund community road repairs. He says people would see the impact of their tax dollars more quickly this way. 

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  • Detroit Today
    Dynamic and diverse voices. News, politics, community and the issues that define our region. Hosted by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Stephen Henderson, Detroit Today brings you fresh and perceptive views weekdays at 9 am and 7 pm.