Federal Changes Bring Tolling Battle to the States: NMA E-Newsletter #378

After nearly two decades of action at the federal level, the battle to toll existing interstates is now shifting to the states, thanks to the federal transportation bill passed last fall.

That bill, called the FAST Act, made changes to a federal program known as the Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program (ISRRPP). This program permits three states, currently Missouri, Virginia and North Carolina, to toll existing interstates. The change requires those states to implement tolling by the end of 2016 or lose their “slots” in the program. Other states will then be free to apply for those slots.

Of those three, Missouri appears to be the closest to getting a tolling program in place by the end of the year, with a proposal to rebuild I-70 using toll proceeds. Tolling proposals in Virginia and North Carolina have encountered strong public opposition from many quarters, and in 2013, governors in both states signed legislation to limit their state’s ability to impose tolls. Nonetheless, North Carolina is still considering a proposal to toll I-77 in the Charlotte area.

Here’s a quick update on what some other states are doing in the wake of the federal changes. 

Connecticut has been looking at a range of tolling schemes for many years. A recent state-funded study recommended a combination of congestion pricing along with tolling to finance improvements on I-95. The state is also considering tolling on I-84, I-91, I-291, I-384 and I-395, ostensibly for improvements to increase capacity.

In Indiana the chairman of the House transportation committee has suggested studying tolling of the state’s major highways, I-65 and I-70. The 2016 transportation bill passed by the House requests the state department of transportation to seek a slot in the ISRRPP. That legislation has not been enacted.

Not waiting around for a slot in the ISRRP, Rhode Island recently passed a burdensome new set of tolls on 14 different bridges as part of RhodeWorks, Governor Raimondo’s transportation plan. This controversial and unprecedented plan uses a federal exemption meant to repair ailing bridges to instead create an entire statewide tolling network. Despite public opposition from concerned businesses and motorists, RhodeWorks passed without much debate.

Wisconsin will likely seek a slot in the ISRRP if there’s an opening in 2017 and is already laying the groundwork for a tolling network. In 2015 Wisconsin lawmakers funded a tolling feasibility study which is in progress. The study will reportedly serve as a “how-to” for implementing tolling in the state, including suggested legislative language, policy guidelines and a revenue analysis of the state’s entire Interstate system. The NMA will provide more details to Wisconsin members and tell them how to get involved as the report becomes available.

Other states may also be eyeing up a slot in the ISRRPP program, so be on the lookout for any tolling news in your state. We even saw a brief report that Wyoming, not a traditional hotbed for tolling activity, is looking at something.

The good news is that many organizations exist, both at the state and national level, to fight against these unnecessary and disruptive schemes. The NMA has partnered with the Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates (ATFI) to oppose tolling of existing interstates across the country. We encourage you to check out their website and sign their petition.

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