Tolling, privatization bills in Alabama fail to advance

| 6/5/2008

Multiple efforts in the Alabama Legislature that have died sought to make toll roads and privatization available as options to fund 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, legislators offered multiple bills this year to move the state closer to having toll roads. One bill called for allowing the state’s Toll Road, Bridge and Tunnel Authority to enter into public-private partnerships.

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

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

The bill – HB70 – was awaiting final consideration on the Senate floor when the regular session ended, effectively killing it for the year. The House previously approved it.

Another House-approved bill that promotes tolling also met its demise while awaiting debate on the Senate floor. The measure – HB101 – sought to authorize the creation of a separate toll road, bridge and tunnel authority for Montgomery County.

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

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

HB60 never made it out of the House Government Operations Committee.

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

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor