Arizona wants to charge a toll of $1 to $3 for cars and $6 to $10 for trucks to travel on its short, 29-mile section of Interstate 15 on the stretch between St. George and Mesquite, Nev.
That has Utah Gov. Gary Herbert protesting loudly that Arizona is trying unfairly to shift the cost of fixing bridges there to Utah and Nevada drivers. The Utah Trucking Association is comparing Arizona to the troll in the Billy Goats Gruff story who threatens to eat anyone using his bridge.
"I strongly oppose any plans to levy tolls on Arizona's portion of I-15 or on any portion of I-15," Herbert said Thursday.
"If Arizona has been negligent in its maintenance of I-15, it should not try and foist its responsibility onto highway users or neighboring states who already pay into the system with their own tax dollars."
Arizona has filed with the Federal Highway Administration seeking one of two pilot project slots to charge tolls on existing interstate freeways, and to do so on the I-15 strip through its northwest corner between the Utah and Nevada borders.
Arizona said in its filing that bridges in the Virgin River Gorge there have all been rated as deficient or near-deficient, and it will take $165 million to repair them in the difficult terrain. It adds that Arizona has no cities in that area, and has only 1,200 dispersed residents in the remote vicinity .
So, it argues that the Arizona section of I-15 "for the most part does not directly contribute to the Arizona economy."
An information sheet from the Arizona Department of Transportation adds, "Because I-15 serves so few Arizonans and is so isolated from the rest of the state, it is difficult to justify pulling limited dollars needed elsewhere for such expensive repairs."
That led Herbert to protest that "Arizona cannot pick and choose which parts of our national interstate network it wants to maintain." He added, "Every state pays into the Highway Trust Fund, and every state receives money from the Highway Trust fund to maintain the segments of the Interstate Highway System inside their respective borders."
Herbert also said during his monthly press conference that he finds it especially egregious that not only is Arizona proposing the toll, "but also to exempt Arizona drivers on it. Everyone else will pay the toll."
David Creer, executive director of the Utah Trucking Association, also complained about Arizona's plans.
"It's nuts, what are they thinking? They have one of the most strategic stretches of road in America for freight and especially for food going through there. And they think they are just going to stick a toll on it?" he said. "It's like the Billy Goats Gruff story."
Creer added that anyone trying to avoid a toll through the Virgin River Gorge would need to drive at least 60 miles or more out of the way. "There's no easy way around it. In most places in the nation where tolls are charged, there are also parallel roads drivers could choose to use if they want. That's not the case there."
Arizona's filing notes that between 20,000 and 24,000 cars a day now use the stretch. It said Arizona has set aside $3 million this year for up-front project-development activities for work needed on that stretch of I-15.
Robert Gehrke contributed to this report.