Several statehouses consider tolls for transportation funding

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 12/4/2018

As state legislators throughout the country prepare to get back to work after the first of the year, transportation funding is again expected to be a hot topic at many statehouses. One option already getting a lot of attention in the lead-up to the new year is tolls.

Connecticut is the lone New England state without any a tolling program to support transportation funding. Gov.-elect Ned Lamont wants to change that fact.

The incoming Democratic governor says truck-only tolls are one option the state should pursue to help cover expenses for needed transportation work.

Lamont adds that charging out-of-state truckers to access Connecticut roadways could raise a quarter of a billion dollars annually. He said collecting more money from professional drivers is a better option to fund transportation work than increasing fuel taxes for all drivers, or borrowing.

“I support electronic tolling on heavy trucks that are coming in from out of state, which use our roads toll-free and create significant wear-and-tear,” Lamont said in a statement posted to his campaign website before the election.

Attempts in recent years to authorize tolls in Connecticut have fallen flat because of opposition from Republicans who have been the majority party in the state’s Senate. Following the elections last month the GOP no longer has enough legislators in the upper chamber to block passage of the funding method.

Leaders in the General Assembly’s new Democratic majority share interest in Lamont’s pursuit of truck tolls on the state’s highways and major routes. Legislators and Lamont, however, are expected to proceed slowly to give themselves time to see what happens with court challenges to truck-only tolls in Rhode Island.

In Virginia, truck tolls are also up for consideration. Specifically, adding tolls on Interstate 81 is among the transportation funding options expected to be discussed soon at the statehouse.

A study is wrapping up to determine whether the toll option should be pursued. Specifically, the Virginia Commonwealth Transportation Board is looking at collecting tolls for trucks only and/or high-occupancy vehicles. Charging tolls for all drivers will not be considered.

Other options on the table include a regional fuel tax and a sales tax.

Once the board wraps up its work, recommendations will be presented to state lawmakers in January.

An effort to raise road revenue in Louisiana also is focused on tolls.

Gov. John Bel Edwards has said he supports legislative efforts to address a backlog of transportation needs valued at $13 billion.

In recent years there has been some pursuit at the statehouse for a fuel tax increase, but the idea has not taken hold among legislators. Other options are expected to be considered in the upcoming regular session.

Department of Transportation and Development Secretary Shawn Wilson said he supports use of public-private partnerships to get road projects done.

Elsewhere, governors in two states appear to be open to pumping the brakes on the use of tolls.

In Indiana, fresh off implementation of a truck-only toll, Gov. Eric Holcomb has announced he will not move forward with additional toll plans.

Specifically, he indicates will not pursue tolling the state’s interstate highways.

The Republican governor last week notified the state Budget Committee the state has enough money coming in via the truck tolls to avoid any new tolls. Holcomb, however, said in his letter to the panel that “there may be good reasons to revisit this (issue) in the future.”

“In the least, I do not want to foreclose a successor from considering tolling as an option for infrastructure improvements,” he said in the letter.

He adds that the Indiana Department of Transportation has been instructed to continue to assess all funding options for potential future use.

In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf has indicated that toll collection may not be the solution for coming up with transportation funding.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike has increased toll rates annually since 2009. Another round of increases is slated to take effect Jan. 1.

There is no end in sight for the yearly rate hikes.

On the heels of a lawsuit from the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association against the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission’s continued rising toll rates, Wolf said he wants to look at changes to how the state pays for transportation. He said there is growing thought among state legislators that the toll option is not working well for the state.

The Democratic governor has not indicated what funding method he would advocate.

More information on the OOIDA lawsuit against the Turnpike Commission is available.

The Arkansas Department of Transportation has decided to remove tolls from consideration for covering costs for road work.

The agency has revealed that a study conducted by an infrastructure consultant group about whether to use tolls to cover costs to construct a stretch of Interstate 49 in the state would not raise the needed revenue.

A new nearly 14-mile stretch of the interstate from Crawford County to Sebastian County had been eyed for charging tolls to pay for construction costs, operation and maintenance.

The Arkansas Highway Commission has indicated that the state must continue to look at revenue options other than fuel taxes to pay for needed work.

 

 

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