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President's Tolling Proposal A Bad Idea

Posted in: Industry Trends & News

The President’s idea to toll existing interstates set off a firestorm of media criticism, underscoring the growing opposition to tolls.

“It’s a shakedown, pure and simple,” the Washington Times wrote in a May 5 editorial, “Obama’s Interstate Highway Robbery Scheme." The Times argues that the President’s scheme to identify and charge everyone on the open road stands to demolish one of the greatest American accomplishments of the 20th century.

“When Congress takes up the transportation bill, it must not allow the President to undermine the interstates that are fundamental to America’s transportation system,” the Times Editorial Board wrote. The government is already intrusive and expensive without this highway robbery.”

The Obama Administration’s transportation legislation would boost revenues for the dwindling Highway Trust Fund by eliminating the longstanding ban against interstate tolls and allowing states to use tolls to fund highway reconstruction, as well as other non-highway transportation spending including transit. This practice has been banned since 1956, when the Interstate Highway System was created.

University of Tennessee Professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds said government efforts to discourage driving and encourage fuel conservation are the real motivators behind the Obama Administration’s new push for tolls in a May 5 editorial, “Interstate Tolls Force Us to Pay for Poor Planning.”

American Trucking Associations (ATA) President Bill Graves criticized the proposal in a Fox news segment arguing that it would significantly raise costs to motorists. Speaking on behalf of the Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates (ATFI), Graves said tolling forces Americans to pay more than they need to in order to maintain roads and bridges and the government should take the least expensive option available.

Fox News would seem to agree, reporting April 30 in its article “Taking a Toll” that Americans could part with $10 or $20 in tolls every time they drive down the highways if the Obama Administration has its way.   

Rex Davis, President of Melvin L. Davis Oil, meanwhile, highlighted the negative impact that tolls would have on businesses in a recent radio interview with Jimmy Barrett in Richmond. Davis said that tolls would put businesses at a competitive disadvantage by increasing costs for consumer goods while also forcing them to increase wages for employees who would be forced to pay the toll to come to work.

An article on SILive.com summed up the views of New Yorkers, who already pay some of the highest tolls in the country.  

“Drivers might wonder how things could get worse on the Staten Island Expressway (SIE), the frequent scene of nightmarish traffic jams that hurt commuters, businesses and residents just looking to get from here to there,” Reporter Tom Wrobleski wrote. “How about tolls along the roadway?”

The article is littered with quotes from New York lawmakers who say commuters have been burdened with boosting highway revenues for far too long and can’t afford to keep footing the bill. 

“There would be opposition like nowhere else in the country here in Staten Island,” Assemblyman Joe Borelli said.

Rep. Michael Grimm (R-Staten Island/Brooklyn) said he'll be "watching closely" as Congress takes up Obama's proposal "and will make perfectly clear how crippling more tolls would be."

Assemblyman Michael Cusick (D-Mid-Island) called tolling “unacceptable."

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 65 percent of adult Americans oppose turning the nation’s interstates into toll roads.

Everyone is starting to realize: the President’s plan is a bad idea.

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About the Author

Tiffany Wlazlowski Neuman

Tiffany Wlazlowski Neuman

Tiffany Wlazlowski Neuman develops and executes communications strategies to advance NATSO’s public relations and advocacy goals. Tiffany also develops and oversees partnerships related to the NATSO Foundation’s public outreach initiatives. Tiffany lives in the D.C. metro area with her husband and their two sons.