Highway bill: Administration plan would allow interstate tolling

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 4/29/2014

The White House has proposed to loosen a long-standing ban on interstate tolling.

U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced Tuesday, April 29, that the Obama administration’s proposed four-year, $302 billion surface transportation bill would soon be headed to Congress.

Foxx said during a conference call with reporters that states would receive more flexibility to use tolling under the proposal.

“We want to open the aperture, if you will, to allow more states, if they choose to make broader use of tolling, to have that option available,” Foxx told Land Line.

“We do have a general prohibition on tolling at the federal level of the interstates,” Foxx stated later in the call. “There are some exceptions … This bill opens the aperture more and gives the states more optionality when it comes to tolls. It’s a state decision under our proposal, and not a federal decision.”

OOIDA and truckers oppose the placement of tolls on existing federal highways and interstates.

“Our Interstate Highway System is the foundation of trucking and our nation’s interconnected modern economy,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said.

“As such, it is disappointing to see that the administration’s proposal would open the door to a localized interstate system by allowing states to apply tolls to existing toll-free interstate lanes. Truckers in states with ‘grandfathered’ tolling authorities already know the cost of tolls to their business and personal incomes, as well as to an efficient system of goods movement.”

According to the 2014 Owner-Operator Survey conducted by the OOIDA Foundation, 53 percent of OOIDA members use toll roads. The average cost per year to those members is $2,440, and that’s in addition to the fuel taxes they already pay to run on toll roads.

Also aggravating to truckers is that the proposed bill would not restrict toll revenue from being sent to mass transit and other areas within transportation.

The current federal ban on interstate tolling dates back to the 1990s.

The 1998 highway bill known as TEA-21, the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, restricted interstate tolling to a maximum of three facilities under a pilot program known as the Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program. To date, no state or toll authority has successfully completed the pilot program to convert a toll-free federal highway into a toll road.

The Obama plan would repeal the TEA-21 pilot program.

Tolling is just one provision in President Obama’s proposed highway bill. The administration is promoting “pro-growth business tax reforms” as the chief method to pay for transportation projects. Foxx explained during the conference call that tax reforms would create incentives for companies to invest in U.S. infrastructure.

The Obama plan steers clear of a possible tax on vehicle miles traveled, or VMT, that some federal financing commissions have recommended in recent years.

The current surface transportation law, MAP-21, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, is set to expire on Sept. 30. Passed in 2012, MAP-21 provided two years of highway funding and policy at a cost of $109 billion.

As things stand now, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the Highway Trust Fund, from which surface transportation is funded, could dry up as soon as August of this year without new funding.

Members of Congress in the House and Senate are working on their own draft proposals to fix the shortfalls and supply transportation for the next several years.

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