Mineta tells road builders: Bring on the tolls

| Wednesday, December 08, 2004

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta reiterated the Bush administration’s support for private-public partnerships in the pending transportation bill – including tolling – during a speech to a national group of road builders Dec. 8.

“In the 21st Century, the public and private sectors must embrace each other as partners in building and maintaining the transportation infrastructure that will keep America’s economy moving forward,” Mineta said in prepared remarks to members of the American Road and Transportation Builders Association.

“New flexibilities for private activity bonds, TIFIA and design-build, debt service reserves for transit, environmental streamlining, and tolling and road pricing will get us off to a running start in encouraging private-sector support for infrastructure investments.”

TIFIA refers to Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act of 1998, which provides Federal credit assistance to large-scale highway, transit, passenger rail and intermodal projects. A TIFIA loan, line of credit or loan guarantee can be used by public or private transportation sponsors to complete a project's funding package.

OOIDA has consistently opposed allowing tolling on interstates.

Media outlets and political pundits have speculated for some time that Mineta would leave the Cabinet before the beginning of President George W. Bush’s second term. The secretary has been in federal service for some time – including serving both President Bush and President Clinton in Cabinet posts – and has been plagued in recent years by health problems.

However, some of the remarks he made during his appearance at the group’s lunch indicate that he plans to stay in his position – at least until the much-delayed transportation bill finally passes Congress.

“Clearly, the first and foremost focus of our energies early in the coming year must be working with the Congress to pass this long-overdue legislation, so that states and local communities can move forward with their investment plans,” Mineta said.

The secretary also indicated that he was holding firm in his opposition – supported by the president – to any measure that would increase fuel or other current taxes to pay for additional roadwork.

Congressional Quarterly reported that Mineta reiterated that he and the administration would not support a highway bill that contained tax increases, more borrowing or any other steps that would increase the deficit.

However, administration support for tolling remains firm.

Tolling provisions were part of the Senate version of the highway bill, which Congress has battled over since the last six-year authorization bill expired in September 2003. Highway funding has been extended several times since then – the last time on Sept. 29, when Congress voted to extend funding through May 31, 2005.

The House version of the current bill does not include tolling provisions.

The Bush administration also made clear its support for the Senate tolling provision in a letter Mineta wrote to Congressional conferees June 22.

“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. “Given the dual benefits of congestion management and increased revenues for infrastructure investment, as well as the development of tolling technologies that eliminate the need for toll booths, tolls have the potential to be much more efficient than other methods currently relied upon to finance highway construction.”

OOIDA has put out several “Calls to Action” urging members and other truckers to contact their representatives and senators in Washington to convey their opposition to the tolling provisions.

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