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Riley says state should consider toll roads

By Phillip Rawls
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — With gas taxes no longer able to meet Alabama's road building needs, Gov. Bob Riley told a transportation conference Wednesday that the state must consider toll roads.

Former Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, who joined Riley at the conference, said toll roads have "already gone mainstream around the world" and are becoming more and more common in the United States.

Mineta said the federal and state governments have always relied on gas taxes to fund the construction of highways and bridges.

But with Americans switching to more fuel-efficient ve-
hicles, gas tax revenue won't cover the rising cost of asphalt, concrete and steel.

In Alabama, gas tax collections traditionally rose each year, but in fiscal 2006 they declined slightly, Mineta pointed out.

"We can no longer rely on
the gas tax as the sole means to fund road building and other transportation needs," Mineta said.

Mineta is a former congressman, like Riley, and served as commerce secretary under President Clinton. He also served as transportation secretary from 2001-2006 under President Bush.

Alabama's experience with toll booths is limited to privately owned toll bridges.

There are two toll bridges connecting Montgomery County with Autauga and Elmore counties, one across the Black Warrior River in Tuscaloosa and one connecting Foley to Gulf beaches.

The state Transportation Department has been considering a few possibilities; among them are using toll roads to relieve congestion on U.S. 280 in Birmingham and building an outer loop for Montgomery and a limited-access road from Dothan to Interstate 10 in the Florida Panhandle.

"We're going to have to have a good discussion about toll roads. We're going to have to enter into a dialogue that includes public and private partnerships," Riley said.

Mineta praised Riley's remarks. "I was thrilled to see how committed Governor Riley is to public-private partnerships here," he told the conference.

The transportation conference attracted many city and county officials, and Riley looked to them for help.

"We're going to have to begin discussing more local participation than we ever have before," he said.

One area Riley is not looking at is the state gas tax, which was last raised in 1992.

Riley said Alabama's current gas tax is sufficient to match all federal highway construction funds that are available.

Mineta said that is the trend nationally. The federal gas tax last went up fourteen years go, and most states haven't raised their gas taxes since the early 1990s, he said.

No matter what approach states take to road building, whether it's toll roads, bond issues or new taxes, officials must begin promoting road construction as a quality of life issue that will shorten the commute of workers and give them more time with their families, Mineta said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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