Opposition mounts for administration's toll plan for interstates

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 5/1/2014

It took no time at all for transportation groups to pile on the opposition to a proposal by the Obama administration that would allow states to pursue tolls on existing interstate highways. Opposition is being led by OOIDA and other trucking groups along with industry watchdogs and some members of Congress.

“We would advise Congress to refrain from advancing negative provisions in the proposal, including those that would create a patchwork of state-controlled toll roads,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said following the release of the White House proposal on Tuesday, April 29.

OOIDA points out that the proposal could lead to a patchwork of “localized interstates.” Further, the proposal would allow collected funds to be used for transportation costs other than highways and bridges, such as mass transit, something the Association opposes.

The American Trucking Associations also expressed opposition to states being given the power to toll interstates.

“Any proposal that moves away from a user-fee funded transportation system is not going to be acceptable to the American trucking industry, period,” ATA President Bill Graves stated.

U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., who fought against proposals to toll Interstate 80 in Pennsylvania in recent years, stuck to his guns in a prepared statement.

“Any attempt to remove the prohibitions on tolling interstate highways must be highly scrutinized,” Thompson said. “Under the (former Gov. Ed) Rendell administration, the scheme to toll Interstate 80 in Pennsylvania was a prime example of a betrayal of public trust, where tolling revenues from the interstate would have been diverted to finance unassociated projects.”

Thompson said he believes tolls should be reserved for new capacity only, and not existing highway lanes paid for with federal tax dollars.

Taxpayers in Texas have also fought off attempts to toll interstates in recent years.

“Slapping tolls on existing toll-free highways is highway robbery and double taxation,” said Terri Hall, director of Texans United for Reforms and Freedoms and another group, Texans for Toll-Free Highways. “We’re not going to stand idly by and let the president steal our freeways and impose such a confiscatory tax scheme without our consent.”

Miles Morin, spokesman for the Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates, says tolled interstates exploit drivers, especially when the toll revenue can be diverted away to other projects.

“There’s no way they could call this a user fee if they can take money from the users and use it on different projects,” Morin told Land Line.

The groups point out that the federal government already has a pilot program that would allow up to three interstate facilities to be converted into toll roads. To date, no existing interstate has been successfully converted.

“That’s either because of public opposition, because of economic impacts, or because it’s bad policy,” Morin said.

The administration has forwarded its proposal to Congress, but congressional committees are working on their own versions to be presented and debated sometime later this year. The current highway bill is scheduled to expire Sept. 30.

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