Truckers reject call to 'toll the interstates'

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 7/24/2013

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who once tried to toll Interstate 80, is urging Congress to lift the ban on interstate tolling in the next highway bill. Count truckers among those adamantly opposed to the concept.

Rendell, representing a powerful group called Building America’s Future, testified before the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee on Wednesday, July 24, during a hearing to address the nation’s infrastructure needs. The committee is chaired by Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas.

“We’ve got to allow states to toll the interstates,” Rendell said, urging lawmakers to take action in the next highway bill to lift the ban.

Current law allows up to three existing interstates to become toll roads under a pilot program that has been administered by the Federal Highway Administration since 1998. Despite the pilot program being on the books for 15 years, no state has successfully made the conversion to date.

In 2007, then Gov. Rendell, along with the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and PennDOT, applied to admit I-80 into the program. But the feds denied the application because the agencies could not prove that 100 percent of the toll money would stay with the highway. The state law that authorized Pennsylvania officials to pursue I-80 tolls also called for the diversion of $450 million per year from the Pennsylvania Turnpike to fund mass transit and other transportation projects throughout the state.

Truckers oppose the diversion of highway taxes and fees to non-highway uses, and reject any effort to convert existing federal highway to toll roads.

“I see no worthwhile benefit to doing that,” OOIDA Executive Todd Spencer told Land Line.

“(Rendell) says the reason to toll interstates is ‘we paid for them to be built, and we’re not paying for them to be maintained.’ Well, that’s not correct. We did pay for them to be built, and we continue to pay for maintenance through ever-increasing taxes and fees we’ve paid for years,” Spencer said.

Greg Cohen, president of the American Highway Users Alliance, of which OOIDA is a member, says tolling would not solve the shortfalls in the federal Highway Trust Fund.

“Tolling would do nothing for the highway Trust Fund,” Cohen said. “The federal government doesn’t collect the tolls; the states and toll agencies do. Congress is going to have to figure out how to fix the federal program.”

Cohen says the current highway bill, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, MAP-21, included a compromise on tolling, saying that states could toll new lanes added to existing roads, but could not toll existing lanes.

“I think that’s a compromise that’s going to hold,” Cohen said. “We’ve gone far enough on this issue, and I think most members of Congress know that. Despite what the governor says, tolling is not popular. If you look at the pilot program, there’s not a roadway that’s been done in the 15 years the pilot program has been around.”

OOIDA continues to support a strong user-pay system based on the Highway Trust Fund and federal fuel tax.

“Fuel taxes are the most efficient way to fund highways and will be for a while, at least the foreseeable future,” Spencer said. “It won’t be forever, but in the near term it makes sense.”

Roadway bonds, paid for with future fuel taxes and dedicated user fees, still work, Spencer says.

“Highway users that know how the system works are going to be in support of increased fees dedicated for highways and bridges,” he said. “There are economic benefits that go to the masses when we fund roads and bridges.”

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