Editor’s Note: This letter was sent this week to US Senate Leaders. It if from the Alliance for Toll Free Interstates of which the National Motorists Association is a member.
Dear Senators Schumer and McConnell:
The Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates (ATFI) is a growing alliance of individuals, businesses and organizations advocating for long-term, sustainable, efficient, equitable, and practical highway infrastructure funding solutions. Therefore, ATFI strongly opposes financing infrastructure through tolling existing interstates in any form or variation. Unfortunately the proposed bipartisan Senate infrastructure framework includes the misguided approach of using tolling to pay for surface transportation infrastructure through privatizing roads and asset recycling as a means of funding infrastructure. We appreciate how difficult it is to find long-term solutions for improving our nation’s infrastructure, but we are greatly concerned about the potential embrace of tolling in any upcoming infrastructure package. Expanding tolling of existing interstates is not a viable solution; it is a demonstrably failed idea and an abdication of Congressional responsibility to fund the Interstate Highway System.
Tolling is a funding mechanism laden with myriad drawbacks and harmful economic impacts that should be removed from thoughtful policymaking discussions about our nation’s infrastructure needs. Imposing tolls on existing interstates will increase shipping costs for goods; suppress consumer activity; double-tax businesses and drivers, waste revenues on bureaucratic administration; discriminate against marginalized communities; divert traffic onto local roads to the detriment of communities near toll facilities; and disrupt the free flow of goods along our nation’s main travel corridors. Allowing states the ‘flexibility’ to toll does not represent real federal investment in infrastructure. Rather, it foists the infrastructure funding problem onto state and local governments, which is where decisions about tolling are actually made, and fragments our infrastructure system.
Tolling is not a “user fee;” it is a hidden tax on the supply chain and the general population coming at a time the nation is already facing soaring price inflation. Similarly, “asset recycling” is a euphemism for tolling taxation, in which public roads are leased to private operators who charge significantly more for roads than they cost to build or maintain, draining drivers to line Wall Street and multinational investors’ pockets. Any attempt to increase tolling would be in violation of President Biden’s promise not to impose taxes on people earning less than $400,000 per year. Tolls will worsen surging inflation, damage businesses struggling to reopen, and double tax Americans who already pay for roads through gasoline taxes as we continue to recover from the disastrous economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tolling administration is highly inefficient, to the point of being fiscally irresponsible. Toll gantries cost millions of dollars to build and maintain. Even with the latest technology, the Congressional Budget Office estimates collection costs alone are at least 8 to 11 percent of revenue collected. Toll management, enforcement and operations total a significantly larger portion of revenues that do not go to actual road improvements. In 2018, the all-electronic North Carolina Triangle Expressway spent 36.8 percent of annual revenue on toll operating costs; those are funds that could have gone toward road improvements with more efficient funding mechanisms. Alternatively, approximately 100 percent of fuel tax revenue can go toward infrastructure improvements because the cost of administering the taxes is less than 1 percent, and increased registration fees do not increase collection costs. Because tolls are generally upheld as a “user fee” for the roads traveled, diverting these funds from infrastructure improvements violates the public trust. When it comes to tolls, drivers will pay more and get less.
Tolling existing interstates is double taxation. Since the inception of the Interstate Highway System, the federal gas tax has always been the primary source of revenue for the construction and maintenance of federal interstate lanes. Every time a motorist puts gas in their vehicle, they are upholding their end of the deal for interstate maintenance. Converting non-tolled roads to tolled facilities, even when combined with congestion relief efforts, forces drivers to pay two taxes for that same road: a gas tax and a toll tax.
Tolling through public-private partnerships (P3s) robs everyday drivers to line the pockets of Wall Street and international investors. Privatization of our interstates turns public assets into privately controlled assets, left to be operated and maintained in a way that first and foremost meets the expectations of the private company’s shareholders and investors. With a fiduciary responsibility to shareholders, how can a company be expected to act in the best interest of the public when those interests are at odds with each other? With tolling contracts for 30 years and longer along important thoroughfares, drivers will pay far more for P3 roads and bridges than they cost to operate and maintain. The federal government is shirking its responsibilities to produce long-term finance for highways by loosening tolling limits. The Highway Trust Fund’s long-term solvency difficulties are not addressed by financing through public-private partnerships.
The fact is that the disadvantages of tolls outnumber the advantages. Tolls are a horrible public policy with serious economic and societal implications. When policymakers understand the full costs of tolling existing interstates, as we have lately seen in Connecticut, Indiana, Virginia, Wyoming and other states, they reject the choice. It is reasonable to move on to more feasible and equitable revenue creation strategies. America’s transportation network has many issues that demand serious attention without the distraction of tolls.
As infrastructure policy is debated, ATFI members – thousands of private citizens, businesses, and organizations – urge you to completely reject tolling in infrastructure policy by eliminating existing interstate tolling pilot programs, limiting toll bridge projects, and further limiting how toll revenue is spent to prevent subsidization of projects that do not benefit toll payers.
Thank you for taking the time to consider our position. We look forward to working with Congress to further strengthen motorist protections and make the needed investments in our interstate system without relying on tolls. Please do not hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.
Alabama Trucking Association, Inc.
Alaska Trucking Association, Inc.
American Bakers Association
American Farm Bureau Federation
American Frozen Food Institute
American Motorcyclist Association
American Moving and Storage Association
American Trucking Associations
Arizona Trucking Association
Arkansas Trucking Association
Best Way Express
California Trucking Association
Colonial Freight Systems, Inc.
Colorado Motor Carriers Association
Delaware Motor Transport Association, Inc.
Duncan & Sons Lines, Inc.
Florida Trucking Association
Georgia Motor Trucking Association, Inc.
Golden Strip Transfer
Hawaii Transportation Association
Idaho Trucking Association
Illinois Trucking Association, Inc.
Indiana Motor Truck Association, Inc.
International Franchise Association
Iowa Motor Truck Association, Inc.
Kansas Motor Carriers Association
Kentucky Trucking Association
Louisiana Motor Transport Association, Inc.
Maine Motor Transport Association, Inc.
Maryland Motor Truck Association, Inc.
Trucking Association of Massachusetts
Michigan Trucking Association, Inc.
Minnesota Trucking Association
Mississippi Trucking Association
Missouri Trucking Association
Motor Carriers of Montana
Motor Transport Association of Connecticut
Motorcycle Riders Foundation
National Association of Blind Merchants
National Association of Convenience Stores
National Council of Chain Restaurants
National Motorists Association
National Private Truck Council
National Shippers Strategic Transportation Council (NASSTRAC)
National Tank Truck Carriers
NATSO, representing America’s Travel Plazas and Truckstops
Nebraska Trucking Association
Nevada Trucking Association, Inc.
New Hampshire Motor Transport Assoc.
New Jersey Motor Truck Association
New Mexico Trucking Association
New York State Motor Truck Assn.
No Tolls I-95 Coalition, Inc.
North Carolina Trucking Association, Inc.
North Dakota Motor Carriers Association
Ohio Trucking Association
Oklahoma Trucking Association
Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc.
Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA)
Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association
Rhode Island Trucking Association, Inc.
SIGMA: America’s Leading Fuel Marketers
South Carolina Trucking Assoc., Inc.
South Dakota Trucking Association
Specialized Carriers & Rigging Association
Tennessee Trucking Association
Texas Trucking Association
Truck Renting and Leasing Association
Truckload Carriers Association
Utah Trucking Association
Vermont Truck and Bus Association, Inc.
Virginia Trucking Association
Volvo Group North America
Washington Trucking Associations
West Virginia Trucking Association, Inc.
Wisconsin Motor Carriers Association
Wyoming Trucking Association, Inc.
Yellow, formerly YRC Worldwide