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Toll roads are moving forward in Utah

SALT LAKE CITY -- A Senate committee gave unanimous approval to a bill that expands the ability for the state to collect tolls on roads in Utah.

During a hearing on Wednesday afternoon, Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, reminded the committee Utah has long had the authority to toll roads. However, it has scarcely been enacted. Senate Bill 71 would allow them to have more modern technology to collect tolls without setting up a booth in the middle of a road.

With more people driving fuel efficient vehicles and less money being generated by a gasoline tax that pays for road repairs (but people still driving), they need to make some tough decisions to address the problem.

"I think most of us agree if you use the roads you should pay for the roads. I think the population of the state would agree with that. But how are we gonna fund them? Tolling has to be one of those options," Sen. Niederhauser said. "I don’t like it, I know the public doesn’t like it, but unless there’s some magical way to deal with this…"

FOX 13 first reported on the toll road proposal earlier this month. Specifically, Sen. Niederhauser said he was looking at toll roads in Little and Big Cottonwood Canyons, where traffic jams have increased leading to the ski resorts. The senate president said he hoped the bill would push people to take mass transit or carpool.

Ski Utah, the marketing arm of Utah's multi-billion dollar ski and snowboard industry, told FOX 13 on Wednesday it would support the concept of the bill.

"Our focus is on getting more people to carpool, getting more people to take public transportation. There are plenty of those options and get away from single occupancy vehicles into and out of the mountains," Ski Utah President Nathan Rafferty said.

Some lawmakers worried about how far those toll road expansions would go. Senate Minority Whip Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, expressed concerns about tolling people who drove to and from work every day.

"We don’t have a transit system that runs to Salt Lake and we don’t have a way to bring transportation to move commerce without the highways," Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal, said, worrying about rural Utahns.

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, said he supported the toll road bill.

"I think this is taking some vision here. I think of all the people that use our public transit," he said.

The bill passed the committee unanimously and now goes to the full Senate for consideration.