Congress recently passed the first long-term highway bill in a decade. The more than 1,300 page bill contains a number of significant policy changes, some directly related to transportation policy, others less so. This week, NATSO is taking a "deep dive" on different components of the highway bill. Today, the topic is Tolling.
NATSO and the members of the Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates successfully beat back attempts by tolling advocates to expand the federal tolling pilot program known as the Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program (ISRRPP) in the $305 billion highway bill signed into law last week by President Obama.
In 1998, Congress established the ISRRPP, which authorized three toll pilot projects, one in each of three states, to toll an interstate highway, bridge or tunnel. Although attempts at tolling under the program have been unsuccessful, tolling interests actively sought to expand the number of states eligible to participate in the program. NATSO's advocacy efforts successfully convinced Congress to refrain from expanding the pilot program to more states.(The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee had considered increasing the number of slots from three to five.)
Nonetheless, both the House and Senate -- in their respective measures -- included language related to tolling in which NATSO took an active interest. NATSO preferred the House language and successfully encouraged lawmakers to include the House provisions rather than the Senate provisions.
Both chambers included so-called "use it or lose it" provisions stipulating that states participating in the pilot programs had only three years to implement tolling, after which they would surrender their slots to other states. Although it does not create any new tolling authority, NATSO opposed this language.
Additionally, the Senate included language that would have allowed money collected from toll roads to be spent on other unrelated projects, and decreased public input on proposed tolling projects through the ISRRPP. NATSO opposed this language as well, because it is a violation of public trust to reallocate tolling revenue to unrelated projects. It was not included in the final legislation.
Finally, the House included language requiring states to enact "enabling legislation" before they could implement tolling under the pilot program. NATSO supported this language because it would require states to carefully consider the negative consequences associated with tolling interstates rather than implementing tolling in a haphazard manner. Similar language requiring states to demonstrate that they have "authority" to implement tolling was included in the final legislation.
Tolling federal interstates remains prohibited under federal law except for three states that hold slots under the ISRRPP pilot program. Currently, those slots are held by Missouri, North Carolina and Virginia. None has been able to implement tolls due to strong public opposition. Under the FAST Act, each state would be given one year to obtain tolling approval under the tolling pilot program, after which time the slot could be transferred to another state.
NATSO thinks that the ISRRPP should be repealed in its entirety and will continue to oppose any efforts to toll existing interstate highways. In the ISRRPP’s 17 years, no state has successfully tolled an existing interstate.
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