SPECIAL REPORT: Feds OK tolls for I-73 in South Carolina

| 8/14/2007

Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2007 – The U.S. Department of Transportation authorized the state of South Carolina to build a portion of the proposed Interstate 73 as a toll road.

Proposed as a new interstate to run through six states from South Carolina to Michigan, I-73 was conceived to stretch from the Atlantic shore northwest to almost the Canadian border.

The South Carolina I-73 Association, formed in 2003 by South Carolina Department of Transportation officials, residents and state and federal lawmakers to promote the construction of I-73, received the approval the previous week, a U.S. DOT official told Land Line on Monday, Aug. 13.

Click here to see the proposed route for I-73.

Tolls are proposed to pay for South Carolina’s portion of the interstate, which has been estimated to cost $2 billion.

Nancy Singer, public affairs spokeswoman for the Federal Highway Administration, told Land Line that the other states along the proposed route – North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio and Michigan – will have the option of tolling their portions of I-73.

Singer said I-73 is the first proposal to receive approval under the Interstate System Construction Toll Pilot Program, authorized in 2005 by federal transportation legislation known as the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users – or SAFETEA-LU. To read FHWA’s information on the pilot program, click here.

“South Carolina is the first one. I know we’ve received a lot of interest on our tolling programs,” Singer said. “Under this program there are three slots that are assigned to facilities as opposed to actual states or individual projects. Other states that are considering the same for I-73 could apply under the same program and it would be considered the same slot.”

The program for new interstate construction is one of six within the FHWA that authorize tolling on new or existing highways.

“There’s no funding associated with this program,” Singer said. “What states are seeking is the authority to do tolling.”

Other factors of the future interstate, such as the possibility of portions being built or controlled by private-sector investment, would be subject to how each state manages its portion.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association opposes tolling on interstates, even if tolls are dedicated to pay for new construction.

“Even though it is new construction, we cannot be a supporter, because truckers and other highway users will continue to pay the highway user fees that are levied on them for use on that route as well as any other one,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer told Land Line.

“We do oppose the measure and will until the issue of highway funding is appropriately and fairly worked out so highway users are not asked to pay both tolls and taxes,” Spencer said.

The FHWA has received a number of applications for its various tolling programs, Singer said.

In addition to the Interstate System Construction Toll Pilot Program that I-73 is under, the other five programs are the Express Lanes Demonstration Project; High Occupancy Vehicle Facilities; Interstate System Reconstruction & Rehabilitation Pilot Program; Title 23 Toll Agreements in Section 229 of the U.S. Code; and the Value Pricing Pilot Program.

The FHWA has outlined the following criteria for the Interstate System Construction Toll Pilot Program under which I-73 falls:

  • States or interstate compacts of states are eligible to apply;
  • There is no requirement that the facilities be in different states;
  • Tolling must be the most efficient and economical way to finance the project, but it doesn’t have to be the only way;
  • A facility management plan must be submitted;
  • Automatic toll collection is required;
  • Non-compete agreements are prohibited – a state may not enter into an agreement with a private entity that prevents the state from improving or expanding capacity of adjacent roads to address conditions resulting from diverted traffic;
  • Revenues may be used only for debt service, reasonable return on investment for a private entity, and operation and maintenance costs, and regular audits will be conducted;
  • Interstate maintenance funds may not be used on the facility while it is tolled; and
  • Applications must be received by FHWA before Aug. 10, 2015.

For more information about the FHWA tolling programs, click here.

– By David Tanner, staff writer