Cover Story
FHWA’s Mendez downplays interstate tolling

By David Tanner
staff writer


States pushing to toll existing interstates will continue to face “case-by-case” scrutiny in 2010, FHWA Administrator Victor Mendez told highway users in the fall.

The head of the Federal Highway Administration told the American Highway Users Alliance in October that the administration is not too keen on tolling existing federal highways. Tolls, however, could still be used to fund additional lanes and new capacity, he said.

The remarks by Mendez came just days before Pennsylvania officials refiled an application with the FHWA for permission to convert Interstate 80 into a toll road.

During the annual meeting of the American Highway Users Alliance, OOIDA Director of Legislative Affairs Mike Joyce took the opportunity to ask Mendez, who was guest speaker, about the future of interstate tolling.

“I asked him point blank what the dialogue has been with Pennsylvania, what the administration’s view of Pennsylvania submitting another application to convert I-80 to a toll road is, and he was very candid and sincere in his response,” Joyce told Land Line Now.

“His response was that, yes, they have been working with Pennsylvania on the initiative to convert I-80 into a toll road, and any application that comes in to use one of the current tolling pilot programs that are available under DOT and Federal Highways would be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.”

Pennsylvania’s application was pending at press time. To date, no existing federal highway has been converted despite the launch of FHWA pilot programs in 2005. FHWA turned back Pennsylvania’s initial application in 2007 for not meeting the pilot program’s criteria.

OOIDA and the Highway Users oppose the tolling of federally funded highways because users already pay for those highways through fuel taxes and other fees.

“The good news was that Administrator Mendez mentioned that, consistent with Secretary (Ray) LaHood’s comments, the secretary is not very enthused about converting existing lanes into toll lanes,” Joyce said.

“They would support tolling new capacity of highways, but they’re not very keen on converting existing lanes to toll roads.”

Joyce said the American Highway Users Alliance is respected on Capitol Hill for its dedication to safety, mobility and infrastructure. OOIDA sits on the Highway Users board of directors.

“They’ve been a very effective organization, and we’re proud to be associated with them,” Joyce said. LL

Land Line Now Host Mark Reddig contributed to this report