New coalition urges widespread interstate tolls

| 11/3/2011

You paid for them, and continue to pay for them, through fuel taxes and user fees. We’re talking about the interstates, the lifeblood of the American economy and mobility. It may surprise some, but certainly not all, that a new coalition of public and private interests has sprung up to lobby Congress to allow a more widespread use of tolling on interstate highways.

Calling itself the U.S. Tolling Coalition, the group consists of state road builder associations, some state DOTs, and a handful of union labor groups. The group’s mission: “… to promote the expansion of interstate tolling in the next surface transportation reauthorization bill.”

The group is urging Congress to lift current limitations on interstate tolling by giving states the power to make the decisions. To date, no state or entity has successfully converted a federally funded interstate into a toll road through one of the federal government’s limited pilot programs.

Truckers, who make up less than 10 percent of highway traffic but account for 36 percent of the tax revenue paid into the federal Highway Trust Fund, have a problem with additional taxes on interstates.

“Tolls are a tax on mobility,” said Ryan Bowley, director of legislative affairs for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

“No matter how much lipstick they put on this pig, a toll is still a tax. Just because it’s called something different, and under a banner with a lot of red, white and blue on it, a toll is still a tax on mobility.”

Congress and the White House have been openly reluctant to raise fuel taxes in the next authorization bill, something the toll coalition is hoping to cash in on.

“They want to see an end to the current status quo where existing free highways are free from tolling,” Bowley said.

Bowley points out that the toll coalition issued its first press release shortly after the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (IBTTA) entered into a memorandum of understanding to work jointly on infrastructure funding ideas including tolls.

“They’re going to make the argument that it’s a lot smaller of a pill to swallow than if you do a fuel tax increase,” Bowley said. “And unfortunately, some politicians, whether it’s Illinois or Maryland or Rhode Island, see tolling as an easy way out.”

OOIDA supports a responsible user-pay system based on a fuel tax.