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Tolling Points

How to Finance a 30-Year Transportation Plan

By: 
Bill Cramer

As the dimensions of U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx’s 30-year transportation plan gradually take shape, two things are becoming clear.

America in 2045 will be a much more multi-modal place than it is today.

And highways will still be the backbone of the nation’s surface transportation system.

Which means that highway funding will still be the essential building block on which the entire system stands or falls. Same as it ever was.

Beyond Traffic: The Numbers Tell the Story

Reporter Eric Jaffe had the story on The Atlantic’s CityLab after Foxx released a public draft of the plan, Beyond Traffic, earlier this month. The Secretary “rode in a driverless car to a tech campus serviced by private bus transit in an area of the country targeted for high-speed rail. He fielded questions about pedestrian safety and delivery drones and gave answers about bicycle lanes and vertical development,” Jaffe wrote.

“To the extent that he discussed cars and roads, it was to remind the audience just how much worse traffic is going to get in the years to come.”

But although the promise in the 30-year “survey” is to “nudge the country off its 20th-century, highway-first course,” the budget numbers coming concurrently from the White House tell the story.

Highway funding increases 21% in President Obama’s six-year, $478-billion infrastructure proposal.

By comparison, transit rises 65%, discretionary TIGER grants grow 135%, and passenger rail receives a 221% boost, according to an Eno Transportation Weekly analysis cited by Jaffe. But each of the big increases is on a tiny base compared to the existing highway budget.

Which means that, while the U.S. DOT tries to drive a major modal shift over the next three decades, it will still need to invest in maintaining, upgrading, and rebuilding the highway system that keeps today’s commuters, shippers, and travellers mobile.

And that takes us back to another multi-year projection that IBTTA members heard about at the association’s 82nd Annual Meeting and Trade Show in Austin, Texas last fall.

462% More Tolling in 15 Years

“By 2030, the number of miles of toll roads in one form or another in the United States will increase to 25,000,” said IBTTA honorary member Ed Regan, (Thematic Report - page 5) from about 5,400 miles today. “That’s a four-fold or five-fold increase in the number of tolled miles, and the vast majority of that will be all-electronic tolling,” with 70% of the new tolled mileage on existing interstate highways.

There are no guarantees, said Regan, Senior Vice President at CDM Smith. But “if I’m even close, the amount of change and growth will be huge, and the opportunities limitless.” The primary driver will be the many states that “have identified new projects with no source of funding.”

While states can toll any state or local roads or by adding capacity to their federal interstate highway, they will need approval from Congress to toll their interstate highways for the purposes of their reconstruction.

Already, tolling agencies from Florida to Texas to California are funding innovative examples of the multimodal, congestion-busting, technology-enabled vision in Foxx’s 30-year plan. States will be able to provide greater mobility and deliver much more relief to the driving public, with fewer institutional obstacles in their path.

To learn more about IBTTA’s legislative positions and congressional actions in the 114th Congress, register to attend IBTTA’s Washington Briefing, March 29-31 in Washington, DC.

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