Anti-toll amendments affecting three states get added to House spending bill

By Tyson Fisher, Land Line staff writer | 9/7/2017

After a late-night voting session on Wednesday, Sept. 7, both toll amendments to the appropriations bill, HR3354 or the Make America Secure and Prosperous Appropriations Act, were approved. The amendments prohibit funding for establishing and collecting tolls in Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington.

After a 5-minute debate on the floor, Amendment No. 49 offered by Reps. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., and Mike Kelly, R-Pa., was agreed to by voice vote at 9:09 p.m. on Wednesday. Using only half of the allotted 10 minutes for debate, the passed amendment will prohibit any funding in the bill from being used for establishing or collecting tolls on Interstate 80 in Pennsylvania.

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., used the full 10 minutes for debate on her proposed amendment, which was agreed to by voice vote less than 30 minutes after Thompson’s and Kelly’s amendment. Amendment No. 53 will exclude funding to be used to enter into an agreement for the establishment or collection of tolls on Interstate 5 or Interstate 205 in Washington or Oregon.

“Residents of Southwest Washington have been voicing their strong concern to me that Oregon will be forcing them to pay tolls for infrastructure they don’t use and that there’s nothing they can do about it,” Herrera Beutler said in a statement just after the vote. “They’re concerned that Oregon will make them an unwilling piggy bank.”

Herrera Beutler clarified that she was not against a user fee and that her amendment does not prohibit such a fee from happening.

Just after 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, the Committee of the Whole House began a seven-hour marathon voting on nearly 50 offered amendments. Lawmakers ended the voting session at 1:30 a.m. Thursday morning. Now that amendments have been established, the House will vote on the entire bill. If passed, it will go to the Senate for a vote or companion bill.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association strongly supports both amendments. In a letter to the lawmakers offering the amendments, OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer expressed how OOIDA members consistently oppose expansion of tolling as they lack efficiency and effectiveness compared with user-fee funding.

“Research has shown that tolling is an extremely wasteful method of funding our infrastructure compared to fuel taxes, with as much as 2 percent of revenue going to administrative costs rather than the construction and rehabilitation of roads and bridges,” Spencer said. “In contrast, a majority of revenue generated by user fees are devoted directly to highway maintenance and new capacity.”

Spencer mentioned that any toll expansions can significantly affect independent truckers’ bottom line. With few shippers providing toll reimbursement, the Association feels truckers are already burdened with taxes, including diesel, tires, trucks and trailers, Unified Carrier Registration, International Registration Plan and heavy vehicle use.

Furthermore, he said, expanding tolls can decrease safety on the nation’s roadways. Tolls can divert highway traffic to secondary or local roads, which are generally not equipped to handle high volume and heavy vehicles.

OOIDA has more than 2,200 small-business truckers in Washington and Oregon and more than 7,000 in Pennsylvania.

“We applaud Reps. Thompson and Herrera-Beutler for having the insight and willingness to submit amendments to H.R. 3354 that would effectively block tolls from the communities they represent,” the Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates told Land Line in a statement. “Tolls are a terrible and wasteful use of transportation funds and should be flat-out rejected by policymakers.”

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