Lawmakers advance Alabama bills for tolls to boost road funding

| 5/9/2008

Multiple efforts on the move in the Alabama Legislature would make toll roads and privatization available as options to pay for roadwork.

Gov. Bob Riley is in favor of pursuing alternative methods to fund transportation projects. The governor said revenue collected from the state’s fuel tax cannot keep up with road and bridge needs. He also said that matching funds from the federal government aren’t enough to cover the gap, The Huntsville Times reported.

To make matters worse, toll advocates say the lack of revenue from fuel taxes is an even bigger problem because of soaring costs for construction materials, including asphalt, concrete and steel.

Riley said that increasing taxes on gasoline and diesel is not the answer. A better solution could be toll roads, he said.

With that in mind, a bill nearing passage at the statehouse would move Alabama one step closer to having toll roads.

The Senate Commerce, Transportation and Utilities Committee voted 6-1 to advance a bill – HB70 – to the full Senate that would allow the state’s Toll Road, Bridge and Tunnel Authority to enter into public-private partnerships. The House already approved it on a 96-3 vote.

Private entities would be allowed to build and collect tolls on roads and bridges.

Supporters say the bill would help the state meet major highway needs without increasing taxes. Opponents say toll roads amount to an extra tax, when fuel and other taxes should cover road building.

Another House-approved bill awaiting consideration on the Senate floor also promotes tolling. The measure – HB101 – would authorize the creation of a separate toll road, bridge and tunnel authority for Montgomery County.

A nearly identical bill – HB60 – includes a provision to give the public advance notice of tolling projects and fees charged to road users.

The legislation would require 90 days notice to the public about new toll road or bridge projects. Public hearings would be held 45 days prior to implementation of toll rates. Subsequent rate increases would be preceded by a 90-day notice and a public hearing.

HB60 is in the House Government Operations Committee.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Alabama in 2008, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor