Trump Administration Announces Support for Tolling, Rest Area Commercialization

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The Trump Administration released its 2018 budget proposal on May 23, and it includes recommendations to change federal law in a manner that would effectively crush the truckstop and travel plaza industry. 

Specifically, the budget proposal indicates that the Trump Administration would like to "liberalize tolling policy and allow private investment in rest areas."

The Fact Sheet accompanying the budget announcement states:

Tolling is generally restricted on Interstate highways. This restriction prevents public and private investment in such facilities. We should reduce this restriction and allow the States to assess their transportation needs and weigh the relative merits of tolling assets. The Administration also supports allowing the private sector to construct, operate, and maintain Interstate rest areas, which are often overburden[ed] and inadequately maintained.

Preserving the long-standing bans on tolling existing Interstates and commercializing Interstate rest areas are critical to the continued success of the travel plaza industry and any business located in close proximity to Interstate highways. The fact that the Trump Administration would like to do away with these bans is an extremely troubling sign for NATSO members.

NATSO members are advised to keep in mind, however, that the Trump Budget is more of a political "statement of principles" than it is a viable policy document likely to be enacted into law. Indeed, the Trump budget released on May 23 includes a number of proposals that are non-starters in Congress.

That being said, given that the Trump Administration intends to pursue a massive infrastructure legislative package, the fact that it supports rest area commercialization and tolling existing Interstates as mechanisms for raising revenue as a part of that package should be concerning for all NATSO members. The Administration is likely to release more specific "principles" for its desired infrastructure package in the coming weeks, followed by more precise legislative language in the latter half of the year.

NATSO has long supported increased infrastructure investments, and the Trump Administration's plans will likely include many concepts and policies that the travel plaza industry would consider positive. It is clear, however, that there are some serious policy debates to come in the months ahead. 

NATSO President and CEO Lisa Mullings said in a statement to media the proposals to toll Interstates and commercialize Interstate rest areas threaten the businesses that serve interstate highway travelers, such as travel plazas, convenience stores and restaurants. 

"‘Public-private partnership’ sounds innovative; proponents talk about attracting 'new money' for construction," Mullings said. "What we need to understand is that public-private partnerships in the context of surface transportation are nothing more than toll roads. It would be great if we had a magic pot of money to pay for construction and maintenance of our roads. We don't. Under this proposal, the same people who have been paying fuel taxes to build and maintain these roads will have to pay tolls, too."

Mullings said the truckstop and travel plaza community stands ready to work with the Administration to resolve our nation’s infrastructure funding needs, and that we are hopeful that President Trump and his staff will engage with us on policy discussions in the coming months. 

The Alliance of Toll-Free of Interstates, of which NATSO is a founding member, said there is a rising tide of opposition to tolling and growing support for federal investment in infrastructure.  

 

Photo credit: Carol Jean Stalun Photography/NATSO

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