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Tolling Points

BREAKING: Federal Highway Administration Opens Bids for Three Interstate Tolling Slots

Bill Cramer

Rarely has a simple administrative announcement been so hotly anticipated by so many for so long.

In a release last Friday, October 20, the U.S. Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) issued a call for proposals for “candidate projects” to pilot test tolling of existing interstate highways to fund their reconstruction. The tender, which closes February 20, 2018, was issued under the Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program (ISRRPP)—which was first authorized under the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century in 1998.

“Under the ISRRPP, FHWA may permit up to three States to collect tolls on a facility on the Interstate System for the purpose of reconstructing or rehabilitating Interstate highway corridors that could not otherwise be adequately maintained or functionally improved without the collection of tolls,” FHWA states.

In three paragraphs, Federal Highways has opened a door to modern mobility that has been closed for two decades.

An Epic Saga

IBTTA members know that the moves leading up to this announcement have been an epic saga…if your literary tastes run to War and Peace, playing in slow motion.

The three slots under ISRRPP have been available for some time. But they were snapped up in good faith by three states that had every intention of using them…then ran into unique local or regional hurdles that made it impossible for them to proceed.

The slots remained filled.

The hope for a series of pilot projects remained unfulfilled.

And in a stunning Catch-22, tolling agencies had to fight the perception that there was no demand for interstate tolling, or no proof that it would work, despite several jurisdictions gently clamoring for access to the slots and the tolling revenue they represented.

IBTTA worked for years to introduce a “use it or lose it” provision that would clear occupied slots that weren’t advancing, to make way for other candidates that had aligned state-level support to proceed. In 2015, that provision was finally written into the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act.

“The reopening of the ISRRPP offers a significant opportunity to show the utility and value of tolling to address the greater need to reconstruct America’s aging Interstate system,” said IBTTA Executive Director and CEO Patrick Jones.

“While this announcement is aimed primarily at state DOTs, IBTTA member agencies can play a major role in helping states assess and scope potential candidate projects, and IBTTA’s associate members clearly can and will be major assets in helping the states participate.”

Keeping Tolling in the Loop

We knew FHWA was moving closer to a decision that would unlock the power of the ISRRPP slots, because IBTTA is in constant communication with the elected officials and career managers whose job it is to keep America’s transportation system moving forward. Cynthia Essenmacher, Tolling Program Manager with FHWA’s Center for Innovative Finance Support, acknowledged the opportunity and the interest ISRRPP had generated in an interview with Tolling Points earlier this year.

“From a project being selected and implemented under this program, I’m hoping we can mainstream the concept of rehabilitating or reconstructing an existing interstate highway with the use of tolls,” she said at the time. “Since the inception of the ISRRPP in 1998, we haven’t had a project go to implementation. But several states have contacted us about the open slots.”

Now, those calls are being answered. IBTTA salutes the Federal Highway Administration for its commitment to innovation in highway funding and financing, and we stand ready to assist with every aspect of implementation—including the public education that Essenmacher pointed to as a cornerstone for any successful project.

Click here for a copy of the Federal Highway Administration Call for Proposals.


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