OOIDA and other highway user groups are opposing a bill in Congress that would allow states and toll authorities to give discounts to local residents. The effect of the bill, HR897, would leave truckers and occasional users paying the lion’s share for infrastructure while failing to deal with underlying problems inside toll authorities.
First introduced in 2011, HR897 nearly fell off the radar because it was not part of the recent MAP-21 surface transportation bill. Transportation groups caught word this week that House leadership intended to vote on the bill on Wednesday, Aug. 1.
U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm, R-NY, offered the bill as a way to give residents of Staten Island and other isolated land areas relief from high tolls during their commutes. While those residents would benefit, the cost-shift to long-haulers and occasional users creates an unfair and unsustainable model to keep roads and bridges operating.
“OOIDA has traditionally opposed discount programs because they allow for a change in subject from the fundamental problems underlying tolls,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer stated in a letter addressed to Grimm.
The letter urges Grimm not to pursue HR897 but to double down and fight for the Commuter Protection Act, HR3864, to address problems of waste and fraud inside tolling authorities.
“Local residents, the everyday users who are the only stakeholders who have some ability to hold toll authorities accountable, are incentivized to support an unsustainable funding mechanism for our nation’s roads and highways,” Spencer wrote.
“Further, under this bill, what is to stop a toll authority from offering opposing organizations exclusive discounts in exchange for support? Meanwhile, the infrequent user is left paying the lion’s share of the toll, even though they may only cross the bridge or drive on the highway a handful of times a year.”
The American Highway Users Alliance issued letters this week in opposition to HR897. Other groups were expected to get involved as well.
Lawmakers have attempted similar legislation in the past, including a Senate bill last year by Charles Schumer, D-NY.
Taxpayers have challenged the constitutionality of local toll discounts in the past, most recently in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.