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Tolling Points

National Transportation Week…this week and in 2020

By: 
Bill Cramer

Coauthored by Mitchell Beer

When the President proclaims a milestone like National Transportation Week, the dual purpose is to recognize significant achievements and set a course for an even brighter future. So here are three questions for the tolling community to ponder as we join in celebrating our own industry May 12-18:

  • What transformative results do we want to see by the time we celebrate National Transportation Week in 2020, seven short years from now?
  • If we backcast from that future to today, what have we done to lay the foundations for our future success?
  • What’s next?

The 2020 Declaration Assuming we meet our objective with the Moving America Forward campaign, the opening paragraphs of IBTTA’s 2020 National Transportation Week declaration might look something like this: On behalf of IBTTA’s 5,000 members around the world, we mark America’s 2020 National Transportation Week by recognizing the reliability, safety, and financial stability America gains from its 20,000-mile network of tolled infrastructure. When we began this campaign in 2013, the Federal Highway Trust Fund was on the verge of bankruptcy and governments confronted trillion dollar shortfalls just to maintain the Interstate highway network. But there was hope. The President had addressed the nation’s infrastructure needs head-on in his 2013 State of the Union Address. He had nominated Mayor Anthony Foxx as Secretary of Transportation. And he had explicitly recognized the need “to restore our roads, bridges, and ports—transportation networks that are essential to making the United States the best place in the world to do business.” The breakthrough moment came in 2014 when a visionary Congress approved a new Transportation Reauthorization bill that allowed states to use tolling to rebuild their aging Interstate highways. The new bill didn’t mandate tolling of interstates; it simply allowed it. But that permissive language triggered a wave of new investment by states to rebuild tens of thousands of miles of highways, bridges, and tunnels, which reduced congestion, improved safety, and created tens of thousands of good paying jobs. Getting From Here to There This 2020 moment was made possible by work we’re doing today. We have shown that:

  • Tolls are a fair and precise way to pay for transportation facilities because there is a clear and direct link between use of the facility and payment for that use. It’s a user fee, not a tax. If you don’t use the facility, you don’t pay for it;
  • Tolls provide a dedicated, ongoing revenue stream to cover operating and maintenance costs and ensure that service levels can be maintained throughout the entire life of the facility;
  • Toll financing can accelerate the availability of initial funding for a facility compared to other funding and financing methods and allow that facility to be delivered to the users faster;
  • Tolls enable construction of transportation facilities that would never have been built by relying on other funding sources. Think of big facilities like the George Washington Bridge in New York and the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco;
  • Using toll revenues to repay the original construction debt helps to distribute costs over a project’s useful life and among all users of that facility; and
  • Tolling can help manage congestion – through priced managed lanes – and reduce negative impacts on the environment by providing a net faster trip for everyone in a congested corridor.

By demonstrating all of these important features of tolling, we have enhanced the attractiveness of tolling in the transportation funding toolbox. And none too soon: this year, many states have expressed interest in alternatives to declining gas tax revenues to fund their surface transportation programs. This week, we hope you take a moment to celebrate the contribution that tolling makes to America’s transportation network and the economy. Then, let’s get back to work. Because we have much more to do to make our 2020 vision a reality.

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