Alabama bills seek tolls to ease road funding crunch

| 3/4/2008

With Gov. Bob Riley touting the need to pursue alternative methods to fund road work in Alabama, multiple efforts in the statehouse would make toll roads and privatization options in the future.

Gov. Bob Riley said revenue collected from the state’s fuel tax cannot keep up with road and bridge needs. He also said that matching funds from the federal government aren’t enough to cover the gap, The Huntsville Times reported.

To make matters worse, toll advocates say the lack of revenue from fuel taxes is an even bigger problem because of soaring costs for construction materials, including asphalt, concrete and steel.

Riley said that increasing taxes on gasoline and diesel is not the answer. A better solution could be toll roads, he said.

With that in mind, the House voted 96-3 in favor of a bill that would move the state a step closer to having toll roads. Sponsored by Rep. Terry Spicer, D-Elba, the measure would allow the Alabama Toll Road, Bridge and Tunnel Authority to enter into public-private partnerships.

Private entities would be allowed to build and collect tolls on roads and bridges.

Supporters say the bill would help the state meet major highway needs without increasing taxes. Opponents say toll roads amount to an extra tax, when fuel and other taxes should cover road building.

The bill – HB70 – is in the Senate Government Operations Committee.

Another House-approved bill also promotes tolling. Sponsored by Rep. Thad McClammy, D-Montgomery, the measure – HB101 – would authorize the creation of a separate toll road, bridge and tunnel authority for Montgomery County. The county includes the cities of Mobile and Montgomery.

McClammy also has offered a nearly identical effort that includes a provision to give the public advance notice of tolling projects and fees charged to road users.

The bill – HB60 – would require 90 days notice to the public about new toll road or bridge projects. Public hearings would be required 45 days prior to implementation of toll rates. Subsequent rate increases would be preceded by a 90-day notice and a public hearing.

HB101 has moved to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. HB60 is in the House Government Operations Committee.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Alabama, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor