Why doesn't Michigan have toll roads?

Could turnpikes save Michigan roads?

While Michigan lawmakers decide how to pay for fixing the state's crumbling roads, let's answer one of the most common questions: why don't we have toll roads?

Related: Why aren't Michigan's high gas taxes fixing our roads?

Earlier this week, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer proposed a 45-cent increase in the gas tax, which would make Michigan's fuel tax the highest in the country.

While the proposal is likely to face opposition, the fact of the matter is, there are only so many options on the table to raise enough money to actually fix the roads.

Also see: Here's how much Whitmer's gas tax proposal would cost the average Michigan driver

Why don't we have toll roads?

If you've driven through nearby states, like Ohio or Illinois, you've likely noticed the toll roads. A few dollars will connect you to a high quality freeway. Sometimes with a shorter commute than non-toll roads.

Toll roads or turnpikes are defined as a fee charged for using a freeway, bridge or tunnel. It's currently against federal law to toll existing interstates.

Here's the short explanation from MDOT on why we don't have toll roads in Michigan:

"It has not been considered economically feasible as Michigan is off the nation's heavily used east/west corridors. A system of toll-free highways has been viewed as important to commerce, industry, tourism, and general economic development."

History and challenges

Back in 1951, the Michigan Turnpike Authority was established to build turnpikes between Detroit-Chicago and Toledo-Bay City, which would later become I-94 and I-75.

The toll road plan never moved forward after federal funding for the Interstate Highway System covered construction costs, ending the state's interest in toll roads.

Here are some of the other challenges, identified by MDOT, Michigan faces with toll roads:

  • Usually, toll roads have fewer interchanges - a different design philosophy than Michigan freeways. 
  • Toll roads can divert traffic to parallel routes, with possible neighborhood impacts. 
  • Toll roads may discourage tourism and business location. 

The modern toll road movement

There is a revival of interest in toll roads, for several reasons. Tolls can do these things that fuel and vehicle taxes can’t:

  • Raise road money without statewide tax increases.
  • Fairly apply fees to all classes of users and vehicles.
  • Direct new revenue to high-volume roads.
  • Release fuel- and registration-tax revenues for use on other roads.
  • Reduce congestion through pricing.

What do you think?

Here's more from MDOT:

About the Author:

Ken Haddad is the digital content and audience manager for WDIV / ClickOnDetroit.com. He also authors the Morning Report Newsletter and various other newsletters. He's been with WDIV since 2013. He enjoys suffering through Lions games on Sundays in the fall.