Tolling opponents applaud senators for turning to gas tax

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The anti-tolling Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates (ATFI) applauded Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) for proposing an increase in the federal gas tax instead of expanding tolling to pay for transportation projects. 

Corker and Murphy said Wednesday that they were suggesting a 12-cent increase in the gas tax, which is currently priced at 18.4 cents-per-gallon, to help close a $16 billion-per-year transportation funding shortfall. 

ATFI spokesman Miles Morin said the lawmakers embrace of the possibility of increasing the amount of taxes that are paid by drivers in an election years showed the gas tax was a more viable funding solution than tolling. 

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“The fuel tax is far less costly to drivers and wastes far less money than toll collection. Raising the fuel tax has been considered off-limits in Washington due to its perceived unpopularity,” Morin said in a statement. “That legislators would propose raising the fuel tax, a move that has been perceived to be impossibly unpopular, rather than try to toll existing interstates, reinforces the fact that tolling existing interstates is terrible public policy and totally unviable for states to implement.”

Lawmakers are facing a looming deadline for addressing the transportation problem before a projected bankruptcy in the Department of Transportation’s Highway Trust Fund that has been predicted to occur in August unless Congress acts to stop it. 

Tolling advocates have suggested the possibility of lifting a federal ban on adding collection booths to existing highway lanes to help pay for an extension of the infrastructure funding. 

“Tolling is a proven, effective tool that already funds and finances more than 5,000 miles of roads, bridges and tunnels in 35 states,” International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (IBTTA) Executive Director Patrick Jones said in a statement.  “It will take a mix of funding solutions to keep our roads and bridges safe and reliable. All options should be on the table so that states can choose the funding methods that work best for them.”

Jones said he applauded lawmakers for being “gutsy” in considering increasing the gas tax, but he said increasing the gas tax and indexing it to inflation would still not permanently solve the problems with transportation funding in the U.S. 

“In the long term, however, the fuel tax is not a sustainable source of funding for highway infrastructure,” Jones said. “This was the conclusion of the two Congressional commissions on revenue and finance created several years ago under SAFETEA-LU and of numerous other studies.” 

Jones pitched tolling as a more viable funding replacement in the long run, noting that the Obama administration has already supported lifting a long-term ban on adding toll booths to existing highway lanes. 

The issue of tolling has emerged as one of the most contentious piece of a funding fight about transportation funding that has raged for most of the year. 

Lawmakers are trying to close a shortfall in transportation that has been caused by a reduction in gas tax revenues as cars have become more fuel efficient and U.S residents have driven less often in tough economic times.  

The gas tax has been the traditional source for federal transportation funding since the interstate highway system was created in the 1950’s, but the tax brings only brings in approximately $34 billion per year. 

The current transportation bill that is expiring in September includes about $50 billion per year in infrastructure funding, which is the level that senators have said they are trying to maintain.