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Tolling Points

Eden: Technology, Opportunity Drive the Future of Tolling

By: 
J. J. Eden

Guest Blog by JJ Eden, Executive Director of the North Carolina Turnpike Authority and IBTTA Board Member.

Republished with permission by JJ Eden. Originally appeared in Traffic Technology Today.

In almost any discussion about the tolling industry, one question persists: with advances in technology, what does the future of tolling look like? It’s the subject of endless debates among experts.

Throughout the history of toll roads around the world, the model has remained largely unchanged. Whenever a transportation agency identifies the need for a large infrastructure project, be it a controlled-access highway, bridge or tunnel, and traditional funding sources are not enough, governments often turn to user fees (tolling) to deliver the project in a timely manner. In most cases, bonds are secured by future toll revenues and are issued to support construction of the project, and once the facility is opened to traffic, tolls are collected to repay the debt.

The model is pretty straightforward, and it works.

But for all the benefits of tolling, such as accelerating project delivery, introducing a true user-based fee, and providing a sustainable source of revenue for road maintenance, constraints like the cost of collecting a toll have mostly limited the model to major urban areas with large infrastructure projects.

As states and municipalities grapple with the reality that traditional funding sources such as the gas tax are dwindling, they are increasingly looking to alternative methods to fund much-needed and overdue infrastructure repairs and upgrades. Some alternatives include concepts like road usage charging, sometimes referred to as vehicle miles travelled, and congestion pricing, as we are seeing in some larger cities like London, Stockholm, and soon, New York City.

However, for these alternatives to succeed, there must be technology in place to capture user information, and systems capable of managing large numbers of accounts while processing large volumes of data seamlessly. If that sounds familiar, it should. The technology revolution that began several decades ago with the introduction of electronic toll collection has positioned the tolling industry to be at the forefront of the impending revolution on how future infrastructure is funded.

None of this means tolling, in the more traditional sense, is going away any time soon. In fact, I believe the opposite is true. As collection costs continue to decrease, more states and municipalities will look to leverage tolling as a means to deliver critical infrastructure projects, and even continue to expand its use as a means of congestion management.

But I do believe the industry is standing at a crossroads. There is a tremendous opportunity right now to be the leader in the discussion on finding a sustainable solution to fund ongoing infrastructure needs, both at the federal and state levels. But the industry must be open to change, to expanding its vision, to partnering with new industries and emerging technology leaders. Otherwise, someone else will fill the void, and today’s industry will be relegated to the sidelines.

What’s that saying? Lead, follow, or get out of the way. Join me, because now is the time to lead.

Newsletter publish date: 
Tuesday, January 28, 2020 - 11:30

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