Some state DOTs promote tolls on interstate highways

| Monday, June 27, 2011

Without a lot of federal dollars to be had for states to make large-scale repairs or upgrades to interstate highways, some officials want permission for more interstates to be converted into toll roads. It’s something OOIDA adamantly opposes.

Representatives from three state departments of transportation have joined with the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association in calling for the federal government to loosen its stance on converting freeways to tollways.

Currently, the only way freeways could become toll roads is for a state or agency to apply under one of six Federal Highway Administration pilot program. Even then, as Pennsylvania failed to do in the past few years, a state has to prove that tolls are the only way to make the upgrades.

The IBTTA says that $2.5 trillion is needed over the next 50 years to rebuild the interstate system and that states can’t afford that kind of money.

“If the states are expected to bear that burden to rebuild the interstate highway system, Congress should eliminate current federal restrictions on tolling of existing and new interstate highways. In short, if the federal government can no longer help solve the problem, it should at least get out of the way,” says Ed Regan of Wilbur Smith Associates, a firm that helps states study traffic and determine options for tolling.

Regan was speaking to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials on Tuesday, June 21.

Joining in that event were top officials from the departments of transportation from Virginia, North Carolina and New Hampshire along with road builder groups and tollway agencies.

The most notable attempt in recent years to toll an existing interstate has been Interstate 80 in Pennsylvania. During the application process, Pennsylvania officials failed to convince the Federal Highway Administration that 100 percent of the toll proceeds would remain with the roadway, and the application was turned aside.

A state can apply as many times as it wants for authority under FHWA’s tolling pilot programs, but Pennsylvania seems to have stopped at three tries. OOIDA and its membership, along with small towns and businesses along the corridor, fought hard against that proposal and were glad to see it go.

“OOIDA adamantly opposes the sale or lease of existing roads and efforts to convert non-tolled roads into toll facilities,” the Association states in its position on highways.

According to the latest from U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, tolling will remain an option for new highways and lane capacity only, not for existing roads.

With Congress poised to introduce a multiyear surface transportation bill or bills any day now, OOIDA and other highway user groups are standing by to see how lawmakers handle the issue of tolling.

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