We all know that America’s infrastructure needs improvement. As time passes, it becomes more and more urgent for our elected officials to decide how best to finance the repairs and maintenance of the nation’s roads and bridges. Unfortunately, far too many continue to consider placing tolls on existing interstates. Tolling is a failed policy. New tolls waste revenue, double tax drivers, create traffic diversion and severely hurt local economies. Our nation simply cannot afford for tolling to become synonymous with transportation financing.
That is why NATSO is a proud supporter of The Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates (ATFI)—a national coalition of individuals, businesses and organizations advocating for solving our growing highway funding needs without tolling existing interstates. As a founding member of ATFI, NATSO has supported the organization for years, beginning with its opposition to tolls on I-95 in Virginia and North Carolina. Yet today, we are facing even greater tolling threats.
At the federal level, the Trump Administration has proposed eliminating the federal ban on tolling existing interstates and using private dollars to support new toll projects. The Trump Administration has proposed using $200 billion in federal money to leverage an additional $800 billion from the private sector, which can only mean more tolls for America’s roads and bridges. NATSO and ATFI have already sent letters to the relevant Senate and House committees in opposition to any expanded tolling language, and have met with most members of Congress about the issue. While it is assumed that any infrastructure package will be delayed until after the midterms in November, we still encourage NATSO members to advocate against tolls to their Congressional representative.
A number of states are currently eyeing tolls, including Rhode Island, Indiana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, Alabama and Colorado.
After months of delay, truck-only tolls began in Rhode Island this past June. A product of state legislation known as RhodeWorks, the truck-only tolls exploit a federal exemption that is meant to repair individual bridges and turns it on its head to create a statewide tolling system. This abuse of federal law by RhodeWorks sets a dangerous precedent. Implementation so far has been predictably rocky, with Rhode Island facing both constitutional and legal hurdles— including being forced to rescind a 50 percent registration fee reduction for commercial vehicles because the Rhode Island legislature misunderstood the law.
One of the states using Rhode Island as a precedent is Indiana. The state has hired an engineering firm to assess Indiana’s interstates, specifically interstates 65, 70 and 94, and determine what the cost of installing tolls would be and what potential revenue could be gained. The report is due to Indiana’s governor by Dec. 31. By state law, the governor can approve any tolling plan without a vote of the state legislature. Since the specifics of any Indiana tolling plan remain unclear, we are uncertain how Indiana intends to skirt the federal ban on tolling existing interstates, but that is clearly where they are headed.
Another state studying tolls is Minnesota. This past year, the Minnesota legislature asked the Minnesota Department of Transportation to conduct a study of how much money could be raised by converting some existing highways into toll roads. The results from the study showed that Minnesota could produce millions of dollars but more study was needed. While no legislation is pending, NATSO and ATFI are working to stop the tolling debate before it gets started.
Like its neighbor, Wisconsin is also talking tolls. As the Badger State’s gubernatorial race approaches in November, many candidates have expressed solutions for fixing the state’s transportation system. Gov. Scott Walker is opposed to raising the gas tax and seems more willing to raise vehicle taxes or allow tolls. (It is perplexing that politicians support tolling in order to avoid raising taxes.) The Republican leadership in Wisconsin’s state legislature is also on the record in support of tolling.
Colorado also is mired in tolling debate. In 2017, Colorado’s state legislature passed legislation to use $300 million a year in sales tax revenue for transportation needs. Implementation of that bill has been delayed with debates over whether new construction should include tolls, though the Colorado Department of Transportation is on the record saying new express lanes are an option for the North I-25 project near Colorado Springs.
Utah continues to hold a slot in the Value Pricing Pilot Program (VPPP). The VPPP works by tolling an existing roadway and measuring if congestion is reduced through congestion pricing strategies as well as the extent of the impact of such strategies on driver behavior, transit ridership, etc.
The Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) is targeting new tolls along the new Mobile River Bridge and the George C. Wallace Tunnel along I-10. This project will be paid for by tolling the new bridge as well as the existing tunnel. ALDOT will select the private corporation to run the tolls by the end of 2018, construction will start in 2019 and tolls will go into effect in 2024.
It is our goal to keep existing interstates toll-free. We will continue to oppose federal and state tolling issues. I encourage all NATSO members to stay informed on the activities of our Anti-Tolling Alliance and engage in the fight against tolls. To help, you can sign the anti- tolling petition at tollfreeinterstates. com and follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/TollFreeInterstates.
Only by working together can we say no to tolls!
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