Tolling Matters This Election Season: NMA E-Newsletter #403

From guest writer Clark Barrineau of the Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates

In the fall of 2015, Congress passed a five-year federal transportation bill. This law placed a “use-it-or-lose-it” provision on the Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program (ISRRPP)—a pilot program for tolling existing interstates.

The three tolling pilot program slots are currently held by North Carolina, Virginia and Missouri. With the clock now ticking, these states can either implement interstate tolling or lose the slot to another state, opening the door to additional applications in the future. No tolls have ever been enacted under the ISRRPP. If a new state wants an expiring slot, a state must apply with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) for both a slot and a specific tolling project.

The uncertainty of the ISRRPP’s future is troubling because tolls are inefficient and ineffective. Tolling hurts local economies, drives up the costs of goods and diverts heavy traffic onto rural roads. The consequences of tolling are appalling and hurt families and businesses alike.

The National Motorists Association is a proud member of The Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates (ATFI). ATFI is a coalition of individuals, businesses and organizations that advocates for solving our growing transportation needs without tolling existing interstates. Since the ISRRPP slots are now in flux, ATFI has seen more and more state legislatures discuss tolling as a transportation option.

States to Watch

Wisconsin: According to the Chippewa Herald, Wisconsin “GOP leaders have left the door open to increasing gas taxes or transportation fees, such as vehicle registration fees, in 2017 to resolve the state’s road-funding woes. They have also floated the idea of instituting toll roads.” This was confirmed by Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, co-chair of Wisconsin’s Joint Finance Committee, in The Capital Times saying “We don’t have a lot of polling done on transportation funding, but the only one that we do see that gets over 50 percent approval is tolling.”

Rhode Island: In early 2016, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo proposed and passed RhodeWorks, a new transportation plan that will create a burdensome new network of tolls across 14 different bridges. This controversial and unprecedented plan uses a federal exemption that is meant to repair ailing bridges to instead create a statewide tolling system. Despite being signed into law, RhodeWorks still faces constitutional, legal and implementation hurdles. In the summer of 2016, American Trucking Association President Chris Spear said “We don’t know if this program is legal, but it is bad policy and an extortion of our industry.”

Indiana: During its 2016 state legislative session, Indiana legislators proposed Indiana House Bill No. 1001, which would require Indiana to seek a waiver from the Federal Highway Administration to toll lanes on Interstate 65, Interstate 69, and Interstate 80/94. The bill also required the department to conduct a feasibility study of tolling on those interstates. Thankfully, both of these tolling provisions were stripped out of the final version that was eventually signed into law. However, HB1001’s original language underscores the point that some forces want tolls to come to Indiana.

More recently in Indiana, The Journal Gazette reported that a task force called “Funding Indiana’s Roads for a Stronger, Safer Tomorrow” plans to host a private meeting to draft a long-term road-funding proposal that the legislature will consider in 2017. According to the Gazette, the proposal may include tolling both new and existing interstates as a viable financing option.

Be Heard this Election Season

This election season will have a massive effect on the future of tolling in America, and we need all those committed to finding better answers to our transportation challenges to work together and be heard.

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