Lawmakers nix private firms for toll roads proposals - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Lawmakers nix private firms for toll roads proposals

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Posted: Wednesday, February 20, 2008 12:29 am | Updated: 9:43 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Efforts to solve the state's transit plan with toll roads faltered Tuesday as some lawmakers balked at the idea of having private companies do at least some of the work - and collect the profits.

But legislators are willing to let these firms build rest areas along or adjacent to state highways, complete with restaurants and gas stations.

Members of the Senate Transportation Committee killed two proposals that would have let the state Department of Transportation enter into contracts with private companies to plan, finance, develop, build and even operate new state roads.

Sen. Robert Blendu, R-Litchfield Park, ended up being the swing vote, refusing to go along with the other Republicans on the panel. Blendu said he's not convinced that the private firms actually bring anything to the table - other than a desire to make a profit from Arizona motorists.

"Based on everything I've seen so far, they're not doing anything that we can't do for ourselves," he said. Blendu said if the state doesn't have the up-front cash to build roads, it already has the power to borrow the money, pledging the receipts from tolls collected to repay the lenders.

"I don't think they bring anything to the table other than higher cost to the taxpayer," he said.

But Blendu said he might be convinced to support toll roads if a company came in with its own money and built the highways in exchange for a chance to be repaid either through tolls or directly from state taxpayers.

The panel did not reject every concept of charging motorists entirely. Lawmakers did vote to require ADOT to find out if companies would be willing to build new toll lanes on or adjacent to existing roads.

These could be used for free - or at a reduced cost - by those who carpool. But it would let solo motorists for whom time is more important than money buy their way into these lanes during periods of peak congestion on the rest of the road.

Not everyone likes that idea. Rep. Rebecca Rios, D-Apache Junction, said that discriminates between rich and poor: Those with funds get to bypass traffic; those without are stuck.

But Rep. Pamela Gorman, R-Anthem, said even people without cash would be helped. She figures more people willing to pay tolls translates to less congestion in the remaining free lanes.

The idea of private rest areas, however, did not get any opposition. But it remains to be seen how many could be built - and where they could be located.

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