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Tolling Points

State Study Points the Way to Safer Highway Driving

By: 
Bill Cramer

Drivers in Vermont may soon end up with safer, more reliable and better-funded highways, thanks to a state Department of Transportation feasibility study of tolling in the Green Mountain State.

From congested roads in Chittenden County to a state-wide list of 251 structurally deficient bridges, Vermonters live with the chronic underfunding that plagues the U.S. highway system. The feasibility study, announced in May by Deputy Transportation Secretary Sue Minter, could point toward a solution. The announcement came on the heels of President Obama’s proposal to eliminate the federal ban on tolling existing lanes of the Interstate highway system for purposes of reconstruction, and the response from state political leaders has been positive.

“Anytime the federal government gives states a little flexibility, that’s a good thing,” said Lt. Gov. Phil Scott. Rep. Peter Welch supporting a gas tax also stated, “Letting states have the authority to decide is always a good thing.”

IBTTA applauds the state’s leaders for exploring tolling as a funding option. Vermonters should be applauding, too. Because Vermont is not alone in embracing a proven, effective method of funding highway transportation. Across the U.S., 35 states use tolling to finance the construction and maintenance of safe, reliable roads and bridges.

Most U.S. toll agencies receive no federal or state funds to support their day-to-day operations. And they generate more than $12 billion per year in vital highway funding. That’s nearly one-third the annual revenue from the federal gas tax.

Tolling is already moving America forward. Tolls are responsible for supporting some of the most heavily traveled highways and iconic bridges in America.

Look at the looming insolvency of the federal Highway Trust Fund and the near-certainty that Congress will not increase the federal gas tax to pay for the next highway bill and you can see why so many state and local governments are considering tolling to help fund their vital infrastructure network.

Here are three essential facts to keep in mind as Vermont conducts its tolling feasibility study:

There are no free roads: Highways need continuing maintenance and upgrading, just like homes and water mains. We pay for our roads either through taxes or tolls. Tolling is a proven, efficient way to pay for road improvements.

A toll is a user fee, not a tax: With tolling, you pay for the roads you drive, when and where you drive on them. That makes tolling a fair, precise way to fund our highways, bridges, and tunnels.

Most modern toll roads collect tolls electronically, with cars moving through the facilities at highway speed. There’s no toll booth and no need to worry about delays or loose change.

With their willingness to explore the power of toll financing, Vermont’s government leaders are taking a decisive step to improve highway infrastructure and assure the state’s competitiveness and prosperity for decades to come. It’s a smart, gutsy decision, and Vermonters should be excited about the road ahead.

photo credit: paraflyer via photopin cc

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