Foxx downplays role of interstate tolling in White House proposal

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 5/7/2014

Days after announcing that the White House was proposing to loosen the ban on interstate tolling, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said restrictions would continue to apply if the proposal moves forward.

Foxx testified before the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on Wednesday, May 7, on the topic of the Obama Administration’s proposed four-year, $302 billion highway bill released the previous week.

Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., said tolls would adversely affect small-business truckers, using that subject to question the secretary about the controversial prospects of tolled interstates.

“I think that truckers, the small-business people, the independents out there, are really hit hard because they pay out of pocket,” Fischer said.

She asked Foxx to clarify how wide the toll plan would go.

Foxx downplayed any widespread use of interstate tolling, saying the White House proposal was more limited than has been widely reported.

“Tolling only becomes available if a governor requests it and even then, it has to be approved by the department,” Foxx said.

Even so, the tolling proposal would still allow states to bring the proposals forward and would lift limits on the number of interstates that could be tolled in the future.

Sen. John “Jay” Rockefeller, D-W.V., chairs the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which has jurisdiction to write portions of the highway bill. Turning to the condition of roads and bridges, he said the state of U.S. infrastructure is “about as bad as it gets.”

“We’re unwilling to pay for what we so desperately need. Going forward, our economy, our global competitiveness, and the safety of the traveling public will continue to suffer unless we change course immediately,” Rockefeller stated.

Ranking member Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., asked whether the administration would remain open to fuel taxes, saying rural states are opposed to tolling.

Foxx was noncommittal to actually supporting a fuel-tax increase, but did say he would keep an open mind to proposals put forth by Congress.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., is a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, and she also chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Boxer announced during the hearing that the EPW Committee plans to release its version of a multiyear highway bill on Thursday.

Other committee members asked about truck-specific issues.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., asked if the administration’s new hours-of-service regulations had any bearing on a White House proposal to compensate commercial drivers for detention time.

Foxx deferred the question, saying he would submit something on the record to the committee later.

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., asked for an update on the Comprehensive Study on Truck Size and Weight, saying that heavier trucks would affect the nation’s roads. The administration’s study is scheduled to be completed in November according to Foxx.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H, said she’s heard from many small-business truckers about the 2013 changes to hours-of-service rules – many of them negative.

“It’s been staggering to me the impact this rule could have,” she said.

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