Secretary Foxx hints DOT open to tolls on existing interstates

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 4/28/2014

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx says the White House may be open to lifting a long-standing moratorium on interstate tolling.

Foxx stated an apparent change to the long-standing position against tolling existing interstates during an interview with Chicago’s Metropolitan Planning Council blog, “The Connector.”

“Given the situation at the federal level with the uncertainty of funding the Highway Trust Fund … we do believe that part of our responsibility is to help states and local project sponsors develop new options, new sources of revenue,” Foxx stated according to the interview. “We would never tell a state or a local project sponsor to toll but that optionality is increasingly becoming something that states are interested in, and we’ll consider finding ways to help when that’s an option that states want to consider.”

Uncertainty over long-term highway funding in recent years has left states to fend for themselves on issues such as fuel taxes, tolling and public-private partnerships.

From 2009 until 2012, the U.S. transportation system subsisted on a series of short-term extensions of the previous highway bill and without a clear, long-term solution to funding.

The secretary of transportation during those years, Ray LaHood, said the White House would not allow existing interstate lanes to be tolled beyond what is allowed in existing pilot programs.

To date, since those pilot programs were put in place, no state has managed to toll an existing interstate. Those interstates that have tolled lanes and bridges were grandfathered in prior to the moratorium.

Foxx, who was President Obama’s choice to lead the U.S. DOT when LaHood announced his retirement a year ago, stated right out of the gate that he did not believe tolling to be a silver bullet to fund transportation.

“We’re not going to toll our way to prosperity in our country. It can be used in some cases to add capacity … but I don’t think it is a complete solution,” Foxx stated during his Senate confirmation hearing in May 2013.

While his latest statements may reflect a softening viewpoint, Foxx is more or less sticking to President Obama’s talking points on the need for a four-year, $302 billion highway bill. That bill could increase the government’s reliance on public-private partnerships and a national infrastructure bank among the ways to fund transportation.

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