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War of Words Erupts Over Trump's Call to Allow Interstate Tolls

May 23, 2017, by David Cullen - Also by this author

A 39-word statement in a just-released 6-page “fact sheet” on President Trump’s “infrastructure initiative” within his overall budget proposal has brought the toll vs. no-toll contenders out swinging.

The bullet item calls for reducing the restriction on tolling of Interstate highways so as to “allow the States to assess their transportation needs and weigh the relative merits of tolling assets.”

In the next sentence, the administration said that it also “supports allowing the private sector to construct, operate, and maintain interstate rest areas, which are often overburdened and inadequately maintained.”

The International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association was quick to praise the Trump Administration for seeking to draw down the restriction against Interstate tolling that dates back over 60 years.

“Today, the Trump Administration became the second straight White House to call for easing the ban on Interstate tolling and giving states the maximum flexibility needed to make the best funding decisions for their local transportation projects,” said Patrick Jones, IBTTA executive director and CEO.

Jones said IBTTA wants “Congress to immediately join with the President to reduce burdensome regulations that prevent state and local governments from utilizing all available funding mechanisms. Toll financing may not be the answer for every highway, bridge, or tunnel project in the country, but the power of tolling is proven and effective. 

“Combined with the President’s proposed investment in infrastructure, tolling can provide valuable resources to the states to tackle transportation infrastructure projects,” he added.

Not buying the administration’s proposal was the Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates. “We are very concerned about how heavily the Trump Administration wants to rely upon public-private partnerships to fund our roads and the idea of loosening the federal restriction on tolling interstate highways,” said ATFI Spokesperson Stephanie Kane. “As outlined in the proposed budget, leveraging $200 billion public dollars into a $1 trillion transportation plan will only be possible through widespread tolling to produce private sector profits.”

Kane also argued that tolls are “the worst funding mechanism available and are a highly inefficient use of funds, as a significant portion of every dollar collected – typically 12-20% even with all-electronic tolling – goes to administrative costs and to private sector profits rather than building and repairing roads.

“Tolling existing interstates is an idea that has been already considered and rejected,” she continued. “The now 19-year-old pilot program to toll existing interstates has failed in every state that has considered it. When the traveling public, businesses and local governments learn more about potential tolls in their area, they resoundingly reject the idea. Congress should heed this warning and not expand tolling.”

Natso President and CEO Lisa Mullings also expressed umbrage at the twin tolling and private rest-stop funding proposal.

The proposals to toll Interstates and commercialize Interstate rest areas threaten the businesses that serve Interstate highway travelers, such as travel plazas, convenience stores and restaurants,” Mullings said. “Oftentimes, these businesses are the economic backbone of off-highway communities; these proposals therefore not only harm private companies but also thousands of local tax bases throughout the country.”

Mullings also said that while “public-private partnership sounds innovative… what we need to understand is that public-private partnerships in the context of surface transportation are nothing more than toll roads. It would be great if we had a magic pot of money to pay for construction and maintenance of our roads. We don't. Under this proposal, the same people who have been paying fuel taxes to build and maintain these roads will have to pay tolls, too.”

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  1. 1. MC [ May 24, 2017 @ 05:34AM ]

    Tolling is a touchy subject. Some places it works, others not so much. I currently live along the PA Turnpike and it's easily the best kept highway in the state. However, tolls have more than doubled in the past 8 years (for passenger cars anyway) and I don't know if that's due to rising costs, corporate greed, or a combination of both.
    I grew up in NE PA near the Delaware River and just about every bridge in that area crossing that river is a toll bridge, with varied results. With the I-80 Delaware Water Gap bridge it took years to figure out that tolling in only one direction helped significantly cut down on day-to-day congestion. By moving all the toll booths to one side moved traffic faster by separating cash and EZ-Pass customers (except on Sunday evenings when all the city tourists are trying to get back to NY and NJ backing up eastbound I-80 for several miles--that section of highway was just not designed for that much traffic at one time).
    I am open to privatizing rest areas or even expanding them to allow private businesses to operate on them. An idea would be to create travel plazas like the ones seen on the PA Turnpike. The rest areas, restrooms and information centers are free to use, but there are also restaurants, a convenience store and a fuel station. The state can charge these businesses a fee to operate there making the rest area self-sustaining. Being that it is not a turnpike, an open access road to the nearest town could also be built onto the rest area to help boost the local economy (this would be especially useful at times when the lot is full). My $0.02

  2. 2. EZX [ May 27, 2017 @ 07:44AM ]

    This idea of monetizing every aspect of our lives is turning us all into ATM machines.

    Before ANY tax increase, toll or other additional costs levied by any government entity, small or large, I firmly believe there should be online transparency of every penny.

    We allow our governments to increase taxes without ever demanding accountability. This is our lack of holding them to account. And, because we never hold them to account, they keep increasing and increasing.

    It's got to stop

  3. 3. MC [ May 31, 2017 @ 07:23AM ]

    @EZX - I agree about the accountability and transparency. However, the current calls for smaller government (and Trumps's proposal) would inevitably lead to more privatization. Private companies don't have to tell us squat about where the money goes. You can bet 20% or so of proceeds would go directly into profit and/or shareholder dividends rather than into maintenance or improvements. Also consider the current trend of western corporations (especially investment companies) to milk a cash cow until it's dry then pawn it off on someone else or even shut it down instead of innovating or making improvements. Can you imagine thousands of miles of highway shut down simply because it's no longer profitable to maintain it and the tax write-off would be better than any profit made from selling it? Either that or once the cash cow has been over-milked, the out-dated and under-maintained roads turned back over to the governments for the taxpayers to eat the costs of fixing or shuttering them. That's a worst-case scenario, but it could happen.

 

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