Advocates want more tolls on roads

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Advocates are pushing Congress to ease up on restrictions on tolls roads in the next transportation funding bill.

The International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (IBTTA) held a “summit on legislation, policy and infrastructure finance” on Tuesday in Washington.

IBTTA Executive Director Patrick Jones said tolling could be a potential solution to a shortfall in transportation funding that is projected to reach as high as $20 billion without congressional action later this year.

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“In 35 states across the country, tolling makes a substantial contribution to the nation’s transportation system, generating more than $12 billion in annual toll revenues that support more than 5,300 miles of highways, bridges and tunnels,” Jones said in a statement. “This infrastructure is vital to American mobility and economic growth. When Congress talks about considering all funding options, we want them to know that tolling is one of the most powerful, effective and proven tools in the toolbox.”

Current law usually prohibits states from adding tolls to existing highway lanes where drivers are currently allowed to travel for free. Several states have been able to add new lanes to highways and place tolls on them, however.

The push for more tolling comes as Congress is considering a potential renewal of the road and transit funding bill that is scheduled to expire in September, which is known as the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) Act.

Federal transportation projects have traditionally been funded by money that is collected by the 18.4 cents-per-gallon gas tax. But receipts from the gas tax have dipped as cars become more fuel efficient and Americans drove less frequently in the recent economic downtown.

The gas tax, which has not been increased since 1993, currently brings in about $34 billion per year — compared to more than $50 billion in annual infrastructure spending that is included in the expiring transportation bill. 

Leaders in both parties have suggested using revenue from closing tax loopholes to close the transportation funding shortfall, supporters of the tolling advocacy’s group position say it is time to reverse the limits on tolling. 

“With transportation funding shortfalls at all levels of government, and traditional sources of funding no longer keeping pace with growing needs, it is important that Congress no longer tie the hands of governors as they seek to meet their transportation challenges,” former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said in a statement. “It is time for Congress to finally lift all federal restrictions on tolling existing interstates when they reauthorize MAP-21.”