Obama Proposes to Allow States to Collect Tolls on Interstate Highway

The cost of driving and basic travel across America is about to go up. As part of the proposed $302 billion White House Transportation bill called the GROW AMERICA Act, the Obama Administration just reversed a long-standing federal prohibition allowing states to collect tolls on pre-existing, otherwise free interstate highways:

Though some older segments of the network — notably the Pennsylvania and New Jersey turnpikes and Interstate 95 in Maryland and Interstate 495 in Virginia — are toll roads, most of the 46,876-mile system has been toll-free.

“We believe that this is an area where the states have to make their own decisions,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “We want to open the aperture, if you will, to allow more states to choose to make broader use of tolling, to have that option available.”

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The question of how to pay to repair roadways and transit systems built in the heady era of post-World War II expansion is demanding center stage this spring, with projections that traditional funding can no longer meet the need.

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That source, the Highway Trust Fund, relies on the 18.4-cent federal gas tax, which has eroded steadily as vehicles have become more energy efficient. (source)

The ban had been in place since 1956 when the national highway system was created under President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The entire idea of essentially taxing travel on interstate highways goes against anything having to do with the spirit of free and open travel in this country, and we already pay a federal fuel tax as it is.

According to The Car Connection, the new tolls could generate as much as $87 billion in revenue for “infrastructure maintenance and upgrades”. But, again, that is additional revenue on top of the fuel tax. Would a toll not amount to little more than double taxation?

So what about roads that already receive federal funding for construction projects? Will they also be allowed to be converted to toll roads?

Multiple highways have been tolled in Texas and that money has gone not to fixing infrastructure but to private shareholders from foreign companies, as in the case with Cintra. Essentially, it’s just another way to make money off the public infrastructure.

In addition, the costs for transportation of goods across the country will ultimately rise as well, and as with everything else, these costs will also get passed along to who else? The customers.

In the meantime, while the government claims we need all this extra money to fund road repairs because the Highway Trust Fund is about to run out of dough, in the same breath the bill is also going to double funding for other modes of transportation. Transit systems and intercity passenger rail funding, for example, will get a boost from $12.3 billion to $22.3 billion.

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