SPECIAL REPORT: OOIDA - Expand roads, not taxes

| 3/29/2004

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association is asking members to contact their representatives in Congress to oppose measures in the House transportation bill that would add tolls to existing interstate highways.

The House bill, which is slated for final approval March 31, would allow states to convert existing interstates built with gas taxes into toll roads. This represents double taxation, opponents say, and there are no safeguards that revenue gained will be used to improve the nation’s highways.

Meanwhile, the already-approved Senate transportation bill is loaded with tolling provisions.

"It is absolutely outrageous for lawmakers to be altering historically sound and successful highway policy by adding tolls to existing interstate highways, but it appears this is exactly what they are doing," Todd Spencer, OOIDA's executive vice president, said. "If that's the case, there is only one tolling provision in all of Congress that has any merit or integrity for highway users - that's the FAST Act."

Rep. Mark Kennedy, R-MN, and Rep. Adam Smith, D-WA, introduced the FAST Act (H.R. 1767). Kennedy has a special section on his Web site regarding the FAST Act; it can be accessed at http://markkennedy.house.gov/.

The FAST Act says fees should be collected on new lanes only from users who choose to drive on them, and spent only where they are collected. The bill also says the fees should be eliminated once the road is paid for. In addition, there would be electronic collection – no cash tolls or tollbooths.

The wording of the FAST Act will be the core of an amendment to the highway bill that Kennedy will offer on the floor of the House.

However, provisions that gave the bill integrity were ignored, Spencer said.

Rep. Kennedy said, “Unfortunately, by not including a more robust version of the FAST Act, the bill misses an opportunity. FAST is a simple idea – it generates revenue for construction of new roads, while allowing voluntary user-choice and increasing user confidence. What came out of the committee fails on all three counts – it allows for fees on existing roads; the fees don't go away when the road is paid for; and the fees can be diverted to other projects. I look forward to fixing this problem on the House floor. We need to guarantee users that fee-based lanes aren't just a tax increase by another name.”

--by Dick Larsen, senior editor

Dick Larsen can be reached at dick_larsen@landlinemag.com.