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Tolling Points

Consensus Builds on Lifting the Interstate Tolling Ban

By: 
Bill Cramer

Amid all the other necessary discussions and progress triggered by Infrastructure Week last week, one of the most transformative moments occurred when three leading advocacy groups in Washington, DC made the case for lifting the ban on tolling interstate highways to pay for their reconstruction.

The panelists were Jim Tymon, Chief Operating Officer of the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO), and Weifeng Zhong, Research Fellow, Economic Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), and Pat Jones, Executive Director and CEO at the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (IBTTA). The topic was The State of Highway Investment: Plans, Promises and Predictions. The tone and the flow of the conversation exceeded expectations and went far beyond the wildest dreams that anyone in the tolling community could have conjured five, 10, or 15 years ago.

Building Trust for Interstate Tolling

That’s how long the highway infrastructure funding crisis has been building up, across the United States and around the world. IBTTA and its members have spent that time building their reputation as steady, trusted, mobility service providers delivering a key tool in the transportation funding tool box. The consensus on interstate tolling has been taking shape for some time. During the webinar, it came into full view with greater clarity.

Tymon pointed to the prospect of lifting the interstate tolling ban as a highlight of the effort to clear regulatory roadblocks under the White House infrastructure plan.  “We recognize that this is not an option that every state will want to pursue,” he said. “But it is an option states should have as they look for additional sources of revenue to fund investment in our nation’s highway infrastructure.”

Zhong singled out the reference to the interstate tolling ban as “a particular piece in the president’s infrastructure plan that doesn’t involve federal dollars and does make economic sense.”

Jones signaled an emerging bipartisan consensus on interstate tolling, in a national capital that sometimes seems hopelessly divided and gridlocked. “Hold onto your hats,” he advised participants. “I’m about to share something with you that doesn’t happen very often in DC.” With the reference to interstate tolling in this year’s infrastructure plan, “the Trump Administration has proposed something the Obama Administration proposed.”

Opening an Adult Conversation

Within a day of the webinar, one of the more influential publications for the U.S. financial community had picked up the story.

“Tolling is one solution for obtaining revenue for roads because the gasoline tax-fueled Highway Trust Fund that has historically paid for federal roadways has been spending more than it brings in for a decade now,” Bond Buyer reported [subs req’d]. “Research indicates that many people are opposed to tolling initially, but often wind up supporting the tolls once they are implemented,” the publication added, citing Zhong, and “tolling the interstates could follow that demonstrated trend.”

The webinar and the ensuing news coverage delivered precisely the kind of thoughtful analysis and problem-solving that a growing chorus of transportation stakeholders, including IBTTA, have been looking for.

“It’s time to treat the American people like adults and explain the need for bigger investment in the form of taxes and user fees,” Jones said. “Adults understand that there is no free lunch and there are no free roads.”

To solidify the push on interstate tolling, “Congress needs to hear this from the public—poor roads and congestion are unacceptable and losing access due to failed roads and bridges is unthinkable,” he added. ‘’Let’s have an honest conversation that starts like this: We are going to build and maintain the finest infrastructure in the world and we, the American people, are going to pay for it.”

Click here to watch the webinar that was live streamed -- The State of Highway Investment: Plans, Promises and Predictions. Then share the recorded video webinar with your staff, boards, members and elected officials.

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