Bill in Congress would toll interstates, but opponents align

| 9/22/2011

A recently introduced bill in Congress calls for up to 10 existing interstate highways to be converted into toll roads. Supporters say it would bring in more revenue, but critics of the plan say highway users deserve protection from what amounts to a double tax.

On Tuesday, Sept. 20, U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-IL, filed the House version of a bill offered earlier this summer by Sen. Mark Kirk, R-IL. Both versions, S1300 and HR2971, are dubbed the Lincoln Legacy Infrastructure Development Act and both reside in congressional committees.

One provision in the proposal aims to expand the Federal Highway Administration’s Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program and allow up to 10 interstate highways to be converted into toll roads. The current pilot program allows just three, but even that is too many for opponents to this form of revenue generation.

U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-PA, fought against a proposal in his home state that would have converted Interstate 80 into a toll road under the existing program. He points out that since the initial pilot program was introduced in 1998, no state has successfully converted a federally funded interstate into a tollway.

“I am staunchly opposed to tolling existing interstate capacity in the name of revenue generation,” Thompson told Land Line Magazine on Thursday.

“Simply put, tolls are taxes, and you don’t raise taxes in a recession. And you don’t double tax those truckers, those small-business owners, when they’re adding a significant service to our already ailing economy.”

Thompson questions the method behind the bill.

“Since pilot program creation in 1998, with just three available participant slots, no state has converted an interstate to a toll road through the pilot program,” he said. “So the question I ask myself is why would anyone want to increase the size of a program that has failed?”

OOIDA and truckers stood with Thompson and his predecessor, former Rep. John Peterson, against I-80 tolls in Pennsylvania, and stand opposed to the bills offered by Sen. Kirk and Rep. Hultgren.

Indisputable in this issue is the fact that the Highway Trust Fund is on an unsustainable path.

Since 2008, the federal government has transferred $34 billion into the trust fund to keep it solvent. Projections indicate that the fund will become unable to meet financial obligations sometime in 2012.

“I agree with the portion of the bill that outlines the funding shortfalls of the Highway Trust Fund,” said Thompson. “However, tight fiscal times shouldn’t push Congress to break the trust of those paying their fair share.”

Some tolls and public-private partnerships could be necessary, Thompson says, but only when they involve new highway capacity that otherwise could not be built.

As for a funding source, Thompson said he supports responsible drilling for oil and natural gas with a portion of taxes on those resources dedicated to highways and other infrastructure.