Truckers say feds are bribing New York, other cities with toll grants

| 8/17/2007

A move by the U.S. DOT to award grants to cities wishing to implement tolls to reduce congestion is nothing short of bribery, particularly in New York, an official with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association said this week.

“At the time we’re talking about the Highway Trust Fund bleeding to death, and our nation’s bridges in need of repairs and replacement, we have DOT giving grants to cities to start tolling people,” said OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters announced Tuesday, Aug. 14, that five cities would receive a total of $848.1 million to implement programs including congestion pricing – tolls that vary in price depending on traffic flow and the time of day.

New York City was approved to get $354.5 million in grant funding as one of the five cities. Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan to implement congestion pricing had already failed to win legislative approval earlier this summer.

Spencer said the DOT grant forces Bloomberg’s proposal back onto the table.

“It’s essentially bribery, especially in New York City,” he said.

Other cities to receive grants are San Francisco, $158.7 million; Seattle, $138.7 million; Minneapolis, $133.3 million; and Miami, 62.9 million.

The funds are earmarked for congestion pricing, transit, tolling and tele-commuting initiatives, Peters stated in a DOT press release.

Peters stated this week in an interview with The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS that up to 40 percent of the Highway Trust Fund is diverted into other funds and projects before it reaches road and bridge work.

An independent study done previously by OOIDA LegislativeAffairs Specialist Rene Hill confirmed at least 35 percent of the fuel tax dollars collected for roads and bridges are spent on things like bike paths, museums and other earmarked projects such as lighthouse maintenance.

– By David Tanner, staff writer