Editor’s Note: The National Motorists Association has been partnering with the Alliance or ATFI for many years and is proud to bring their latest update to the NMA’s Tolling in America Blog.
With the ongoing global pandemic caused by COVID-19, toll roads continue to see decreased users and vital traffic, leading to a freefall of expected revenues. Although the worst of the pandemic seems to be behind us, the transportation industry is operating under abnormal circumstances. Unfortunately, some states are still looking to add tolls to fill budget gaps. The Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates (ATFI) is devoted to keeping existing interstates toll-free and open as they were intended.
At ATFI, we strive to educate the public, policymakers, and the media about the negative implications that tolling existing interstates has on American communities and businesses and why it will not solve our transportation needs. Here are the states we have been monitoring and engaged in during 2020 and where they are headed.
• Alabama –On Election Day, Baldwin County residents will vote on a constitutional amendment that would allow the county to create a toll authority to finance the last portion of the 24-mile Baldwin Beach Express. Without the tolling authority, Baldwin County says they cannot afford to build the road in question. Residents in the Yellowhammer state are still upset over last year’s proposed toll bridge for Mobile River and are skeptical about the idea of tolls.
• California – The Metropolitan Transpiration Committee’s plans to expand tolling significantly. The San Francisco Chronicle uncovered bay Area tolling in an interagency letter about county transportation agencies cooperating with future tolling studies. Congestion pricing would also be implemented eventually on most, if not all, lanes of Bay Area freeways. Currently, express lanes will soon be added to Highway 101 in San Mateo County, and MTC is using this project as a stepping stone for the proposed tolling expansion. All-lane tolling may begin as early as 2022, with expanded tolling not being implemented until 2035.
• Florida –In 2019, the Florida Legislature approved the Multi-Use Corridors of Regional Significance (M-CORES) proposal to construct 330 miles of new toll roads throughout rural parts of the state. In mid-August, the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously to reject the plans, garnering praise from motorists and nature preservation groups alike. Monroe County Commissioners are also considering tolling non-Florida residents on the scenic Overseas Highway on US 1, leading to the Florida Keys. Commissioners must first determine what state and federal apply and what they can spend the toll revenue on outside of regular highway reconstruction and maintenance.
• Michigan – Michigan currently only collects tolls on bridges like the Mackinac Bridge, the Blue Water Bridge, and the International Bridge. However, the legislature passed Senate Bill 17 in June to create a panel to explore the practicality of charging tolls for roads, which Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed into law in July. Michigan officials must now hire an independent consulting firm to study the feasibility of collecting tolls on interstates, toll amounts, economic impact, and how the state would pay for the toll. Michigan’s Department of Transportation voiced support for the bill and is specifically interested in the feasibility of tolls on Interstates 75, 94, and 96.
• Oregon – The Oregon Department of Transportation wants to toll I-205. It is accepting public comment until mid-September on five alternatives for tolls on I-205, including a toll on the Abernathy Bridge, tolling gantries off the bridge, tolling multiple bridges that are to be rebuilt, tolling four segments of I-205 from Stafford Road to OR 213, and a single-zone toll from Stafford Rod to OR 213. In August, a petition initiative to let voters decide whether the state should toll existing roads or bridges failed to garner the required number of signatures to appear on the fall ballot. The state is also looking at tolling portions of I-5.
• Pennsylvania – Tolls are rising again on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. In July, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission announced that there would be a 6% toll increase starting January 3, 2021. The decision comes after the state eliminated cash fees in March at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and experienced a loss in tolling revenue. In addition, there will be a 45% surcharge for processing Toll-By-Plate arrangements for those who do not use E-Z Passes. Six tolling gantries will not add the surcharge due to motorists already paying a separate fee. The tolling increase will make this the 13th straight year that the turnpike has raised tolls.
• Rhode Island – After the state announced construction would begin on ten truck-only toll facilities on Interstate 95 in December, the American Trucking Association filed a lawsuit. Despite the lawsuit, the first toll booths opened in June 2019. After numerous appeals, the ATA has moved forward with its lawsuit and is resuming the fight in a lower court against tolls. In July, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo and two Democratic lawmakers were subpoenaed to testify in their lawsuit against the state’s truck-only tolls. Both sides will provide evidence so that the court can make a judgment.
• Wyoming – Lawmakers in Wyoming considered tolling Interstate 80 lately across the entire state. The Wyoming legislature introduced a bill in December 2019 that failed in February that would have allowed the state to convert I-80 into a major toll road. Small business groups and trucking groups alike opposed the legislation, which was almost successful due to funding shortfalls faced by the Wyoming Department of Transportation. With the state facing over $100 million in annual unmet road needs prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for funding may lead to continued consideration of tolls on Wyoming roadways.
Federal –Tolling agencies across the nation saw their revenue drop significantly due to government shutdowns that began in early March. With many states slowly opening back up, more and more citizens have been out on the roads. Although traffic has rebounded on some roads, many are still recovering. The International Bridge, Tunnel & Turnpike Association (IBTTA) compared traffic volume for late March/early April 2020 to late March/early April 2019, and also revisited those stats in the first week of August. IBTTA found that among those surveyed, the Ohio Turnpike and Port Authority of New York and New Jersey showed a strong recovery compared to early April traffic volumes.
In July, the US House of Representatives passed the amended Moving Forward Act. ATFI supports the tolling provisions of the bill and looks forward to working with Congress to help further strengthen motorist protections on federal efforts to fund our national transportation network. ATFI believes now is the time to make the needed investments in our national interstate system without tolls. Leading up to this bill passage, ATFI was very active with submitting official letters to Congress and getting our member organizations to sign-off. In July, the United States House passed the amended Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America (INVEST in America) Act, now referred to as the Moving Forward Act. ATFI strongly supports the repeal of the failed Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program (ISRRPP) and sunset provision for the Value Pricing Pilot Program (VPPP). These outdated tolling pilots need to go. Be sure to read the full letter we submitted earlier to Congress.
After you sign the national petition, be sure to spread the word by sharing this with your friends, family, and colleagues to do the same!