As their name implies, the group called Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates has but one item on their agenda: keeping federally funded highways free from being tolled. The group issued a national call to action this week ahead of two upcoming hearings on highway funding happening at the committee level in Congress.
The group’s call to action says it takes just 15 seconds to send a message to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to tell them that considering tolls on existing interstate highways is the wrong move as the committee prepares to mark up the blueprint for a six-year highway policy and funding bill.
The EPW Committee, chaired by Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., with Sen. Barbara Boxer of California as the ranking Democrat, plans to mark up its blueprint for a new highway bill at a hearing this month. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., and Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., round out the committee’s “big four” that will have their names attached to a draft bill.
Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates says that overwhelming public opposition to interstate tolling has stalled or killed off numerous attempts by states to add the extra charges for highway usage.
“Six states have pursued tolls via (a Federal Highway Administration pilot program), and all failed primarily due to the widespread public outcry over tolling’s negative consequences, which in some cases even triggered legislative action to protect interstates from tolls,” ATFI stated in its call to action.
“Pilot programs are meant to be temporary. Approaching twenty years, the (program) has run its course and should be repealed, not expanded or made more flexible,” the group said.
“We all know that tolling existing interstates would have serious negative consequences. Businesses would face higher operating expenses and pass those costs on to consumers,” the group adds.
“Commuters and travelers would face steep cost increases, and hourly employees might have to work an extra hour per day just to pay the toll to and from work. Traffic diversion around tolls onto secondary routes would cause congestion, increased accidents, higher road-wear and repair costs for local governments, and slower first response times. The cost to drive will be dramatically higher.”
On a related note, the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has scheduled a hearing on long-term financing for transportation on June 17.
While the Ways and Means Committee has not specifically mentioned tolling as an option, it is not yet clear what topics could come up at the hearing.
EPW, Ways and Means and other committees say the current system of fuel taxes, heavy use taxes, tire taxes, and the 12 percent excise tax on trucking equipment are not producing enough revenue to fully fund the national transportation system.
Lawmakers are trying to find approximately $15 billion per year to bring annual spending on highways and bridges up from about $35 billion to the $50 billion mark.
The Congressional Budget Office reports that it would take about $100 billion a year for at least six years to effectively modernize and repair the nation’s transportation infrastructure.
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