SPECIAL REPORT: Issue of tolling interstates gathering steam

| 7/2/2004

U.S. House and Senate conferees and Bush administration officials have been busy trying to finalize a version of the highway bill that will go to the president for his signature - however, many issues remain, including controversial provisions in the Senate version calling for tolling on existing interstate highways.

The provision that allows states to convert existing interstates into toll roads is still alive.

Moreover, Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta recently wrote the conferees expressing support of the Senate's tolling provisions.

"The administration supports the Senate provision giving states broad flexibility to implement variable pricing on the Interstate Highway System in order to manage congestion or improve air quality," Mineta wrote.

But in a July 1 letter to Mineta, Rep. Mark Kennedy, R-MN, said he was "deeply troubled" by the secretary's support of the Senate's language on tolling, even though he shares the administration's "desire for innovative and fiscally responsible solutions to traffic congestion ..."

"The tolling language in the Senate bill, S1072, is deeply flawed," Kennedy wrote. "The most significant problem with the Senate provision is that it would permit the conversion of existing roads into toll roads. It is fundamentally unfair to road users to take a road built with their gas taxes, and make them pay a second time with a toll."

OOIDA's reaction

OOIDA is asking members to fax, write e-mail and call their elected officials and urge them to reject provisions in Section 1609 of the Senate bill that allow states to begin collecting tolls on existing interstate highways.

OOIDA opposes all new highway tolls except those proposed in Section 1603 of the House bill. The tolls provided for in Section 1603 are acceptable to OOIDA members because they are voluntary, may only be used to fund the construction of new highway lanes and expire after paying for the construction of those new lanes. Therefore, OOIDA opposes Sections 1604, "Toll Feasibility," and 1605, "Use of Excess Funds," of the House bill and opposes Section 1609 of the Senate bill, titled "Toll programs."

These are the lawmakers that need to be contacted in the U.S. Senate: (Click Here...)

These are the lawmakers that need to be contacted in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Editor's note: Each Congressman listed here voted against the Kennedy amendment (presumably because they support tolling on existing interstate highways) when the House voted on their version of the highway bill. These folks really need to hear from the folks back home: (Click Here...)

Sample letter and contact information

The following is a sample message you can use to contact your senators and representatives: (Click Here...)

Call and write your U.S. elected officials at their Washington and/or local offices as soon as possible.

There is another golden opportunity you may have to communicate with your elected officials.

Congress started its break for the Independence Day holiday on June 24, and most lawmakers will be in their home districts until July 6. Many will be making campaign appearances at public events, as this is an election year.

To find out where your officials will be appearing, simply call a local office and ask. This is a great opportunity to make sure your lawmaker knows how important this is to you. Take advantage of it.

You won this issue when it came up in the House just a few months ago and you can do it again now with the conference committee. Sick 'em.

If you are not sure who your lawmakers are, simply phone the OOIDA Membership Department, and they'll look up the information for you. The toll-free number is 1-800-444-5791. If you know who they are but don't have contact information, you can visit www.congress.orgwww.house.gov or www.senate.gov. You can also call the U.S. Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121. If you're home, try looking in the blue government pages in your local phone book or call location information.