Administration rejects proposed Interstate 15 toll

Motorists traveling on Interstate 15 will not be charged for driving a 30-mile passage through the Virgin River Gorge after the Federal Highway Administration rejected Arizona’s proposal to place toll booths at its borders.

Arizona Department of Transportation Director John Halikowski was given the news last week.

“At this time, Interstate 15 will not be considered for a federal toll road pilot program,” according to the Transportation Department .

The Federal Highway Administration has given North Carolina, Virginia and Missouri the nod to test whether toll roads will generate enough money to improve existing highways or construct new roads. If one of those states drops out of the federal program, I-15 could be reconsidered.

Arizona applied for the federal pilot program with hopes of paying for
$250 million in improvements to the freeway winding through the steep canyon. The highway is reaching the end of its life span, and despite the state putting $15 million into the road during the past decade and recently landing another $15 million, it is still not enough money to repave the freeway and fix its bridges, according to the Transportation Department.

“ADOT has been vigilant and consistent in its maintenance of I-15, but the time has come for major investments to be made in this corridor,” Halikowski said. “Funding to keep highways and bridges in good repair is an issue today and in the long term as we look at the transportation infrastructure around the state.

“These issues are most pressing on the I-15 corridor, which is such an important link for the nation, even if most Arizonans don’t use it.”

The state had proposed charging passenger vehicles between $1 and $3 and commercial trucks between $6 and $10 to cross through the northwest corner of Arizona.

Transportation agencies have traditionally made improvements using funding from fuel tax revenue, but the tax has not been increased in 1993 and does not cover the cost of maintenance. Nevada is conducting a study to determine whether taxing its motorists by the mile is a feasible solution.

Halikowski said Arizona has also applied for a federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant to help pay for the I-15 repairs.

The stretch of Interstate 15 between Mesquite and St. George, Utah, has been a point of congestion for a half century.

Concerned with the expense of building a highway through the gorge, Arizona transportation officials fought to build the freeway two miles north, where there were fewer topographical challenges. The federal government insisted on building I-15 in its current alignment. When the highway was built in the 1960s, the stretch Arizona hoped to toll was the most expensive section of rural interstate in the country.

Arizona ran into more difficulties with the 30-mile portion of I-15. When construction was set to start in 1966, the federal government pulled 20 percent of its funding because of the Vietnam War, according to the website aaroads.com. Because I-15 was a crucial corridor into Utah, Utah representatives agreed to front Arizona the money to finish the project.

The section of I-15 through the Virgin River Gorge is on the federal government’s list of Nationally and Exceptionally Significant Features of the Federal Highway System.

Contact reporter Adrienne Packer at apacker@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2904.

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