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Tolling Points

Long Game Wins the Day as Tolling Projects Bloom Across U.S. States

By: 
Bill Cramer

If there’s one thing tolling and user financing advocates have learned over the years, it’s how to adapt to the long game.

You spot a need to move public policy forward. You do your research, gather your data, connect and collaborate with your allies, communicate with elected officials and go for it. You hopefully make incremental progress.

Along the long process, you run into roadblocks and delays—ironically enough, since highway blockages and delays are what you’re trying to solve. But no matter. You push as far as you can, take the incremental gain, and wait for the next opportunity to repeat procedure.

There are three lessons to take away from the industry’s experience. Tolling advocacy isn’t for the faint-hearted or the impatient. It usually takes an incredible amount of persistence and repetition to get the job done.

And eventually, progress, provides greater mobility for your community.

That’s the message that comes through loud and clear in the flurry of new tolling projects that are either opening for business, nearing completion, or gaining legislative approval in jurisdictions across the United States.

Tolling Gains Ground

Two of the most recent advances will solidify tolling as a go-to mobility option in the northeastern U.S. Northern Virginia is gearing up for another express lane expansion. And Maryland has just concluded a key vote to introduce toll lanes in the Washington, DC suburbs—and received a powerful media endorsement for doing so.

The Maryland decision came June 5, in the form of a 2-1 vote by the state’s Board of Public Works, The Washington Post reports. In a shift from Governor Larry Hogan’s original plan, work will begin on toll lanes along I-270 and the Capital Beltway, with additional lanes in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties deferred to subsequent phases of work. The Washington Post says the $11-billion public-private partnership will be the biggest in U.S. history.

Hogan’s statement on the vote reflected the same incremental, patient, long-term approach that Connecticut is still in the midst of.

“This transformative project that we’re voting on today is about finally taking the first step to move forward and to finally take action on an issue that unfortunately elected officials have literally ignored for decades,” he said. “It will result in less traffic, more peace of mind, cleaner air, and a much better quality of life for hundreds of thousands of Marylanders for decades to come.”

The decision earned plaudits from The Washington Post Editorial Board; whose members concluded the public works board had “struck a blow for common sense. It also signaled to local elected officials in the Washington suburbs that while their legitimate concerns about the plan will be taken into account, the project, which would improve the daily lives of hundreds of thousands of commuters, should not be derailed.”

The editors pointed out that the details along the road to implementing the plan will be extremely important. But “by greenlighting the bidding process, the board recognized the certainty that without upgrades to those major suburban arteries, traffic will get much worse as the area’s population swells in the next 20 years—a threat to the region’s prosperity.”

It's Happening Everywhere

But this is one moment when focusing on two states, important as they are, only begins to tell the story. A quick survey of online news clippings tells a powerful story.

  • The first phase of one of the most debated tolling projects in recent years, I-77 in Charlotte, North Carolina, has opened for business.
  • In Harris County, Texas, a new toll road is expected to bring badly-needed congestion relief to a key state road beginning later this year.
  • In Central Texas, the Regional Mobility Authority is gathering public comments on the third phase of its Toll 183A project.
  • In Northeast Texas, local residents are getting into the discussion about a new tolling proposal—not to talk about whether their community needs tolls, but to look at how to plan the route to deliver the greatest benefit.
  • New York City’s congestion pricing plan is moving toward implementation, with Long Island-based Newsday recently calling on state legislators to “put tolls to work against traffic”, and “raise money to improve regional mass transit.”
  • The Alabama House took action late last month to modernize the state tolling authority and pave the way for a tolled bridge along Interstate 10, connecting Baldwin and Mobile counties.
  • Florida is advancing a multi-million-dollar plan for new toll roads to counter what one advocate described as “inter-urban crawl” in the western and northern parts of the state.
  • In Michigan, legislators are calling for a tolling study to supplement available tax revenues and pay for badly-needed repairs.
  • And Connecticut will hold a special legislative session on Governor Ned Lamont’s tolling plan, after more than four years of debate and deliberation. “I cannot fix this state unless I fix the transportation system,” the governor said in his inaugural budget address earlier this year. That means looking at new, promising ways to pay to rebuild the infrastructure—and one piece of the puzzle is to introduce tolling for cars and trucks on the state’s major highways.

It all adds up to an industry on the move, dedicated to taking action to address the nation’s infrastructure, to provide greater mobility. From the nation’s first superhighway, the Pennsylvania Turnpike, opening in 1940 to today’s Express Lanes in 11 states, easing congestion. It didn’t happen overnight. But the long game that tolling and transportation advocates have been focused on for decades is most definitely beginning to pay off.

Get the techniques and contacts you need to play the long game. Register today for IBTTA’s Communication and Change Management Summit, July 28-30 in Seattle and meet the women and men who make it happen.

Newsletter publish date: 
Tuesday, June 18, 2019 - 10:15

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