AURORA | As state and local governments grapple with how to pay for much-needed transportation projects, backers of toll roads say forking over a few bucks per mile should be part of the conversation.
“We don’t suggest tolling everywhere, but we suggest it be part of the discussion,” said Tim Stewart, executive director of the E-470 Public Highway Authority.
And as toll roads around the globe make that push, the industry’s leading trade group, the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association, will do so with a local face at the helm.
Earlier this month the group named Stewart as the group’s president for 2018.
“Tim’s experience leading Colorado’s largest tolling system will help guide the international mobility conversation and bring to the table innovative strategies to foster collaboration among our members to meet the global transportation challenges of the future,” Patrick Jones, executive director and CEO of IBTTA, said in a statement announcing Stewart’s appointment.
Stewart, who spent more than three decades with the Oklahoma turnpike system before coming to E-470 in 2016, said the appointment is an honor and he looks forward to building trust in the toll industry worldwide.
“I look forward to leading the association as we work toward critical transportation solutions at the local, state and federal levels of government,” Stewart said in the statement. “I hope to apply my experience at E-470 to engage and educate policymakers and the public about the benefits of tolling and creating greater mobility in the transportation debate.”
Stewart said the industry isn’t always well understood.
“The tolling industry is sometimes looked as ‘who are they?’ and ‘what are they?’” he said.
The public, Stewart says, often wonder why tolls are necessary when taxes already cover some transportation and infrastructure costs. And, he said, they often assume models like E-470 — where drivers pay a toll every few miles — are the only form of tolling.
But the industry is broader than that, he said, and includes innovative ideas like charging tolls only for large trucks or only for certain vehicle and certain stretches.
Still, he said, he doesn’t view tolling as a catch-all fix for any community’s transportation challenges.
“I believe tolls are a tool, not the tool in resolving transportation funding and transportation infrastructure development, you see it across the world,” he said.
Stewart said he also hopes his time at the helm of IBTTA can shed some light on some of E-470’s successes, which he said include spurning billions along the swath of the eastern metro that 25 years ago was just a greenfield.
“Were we not here, I don’t know that would be happening,” he said.
Stewart’s appointment comes at a time of record traffic for Aurora-based E-470.
Traffic climbed 7 percent in 2016 compared to 2015, the fourth straight record-breaking year, according to an annual report released last spring.
The authority also launched a $90-million expansion last year from Parker Road to East Quincy Avenue set to wrap in late 2017. When complete, the eight-mile stretch will have six lanes, up from the current four.
According to the annual report, the toll road processed 80 million transactions last year, up from 74 million in 2015.