As winter comes to a blessed end in the United States – we hope so, anyway – we now confront the brutal aftermath of the perennial freeze-thaw cycle: giant potholes and crumbling roads.  Unfortunately, states don’t have enough money both to fill the potholes that plague our daily commutes and also to make major road improvements to accommodate our expanding population and economy.

Congress continues to struggle to solve this infrastructure funding crisis. 

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Congress has not increased the 18.4 cents per gallon federal gas tax since 1993, and since then, the gas tax has lost more than one-third of its purchasing power.  As a result, revenues into the federal highway trust fund have not kept pace with the growing infrastructure needs.  Since 2008, Congress has transferred more than $60 billion from the general fund into the highway trust fund just to keep it from going broke.  And, since 1998, Congress has passed more than 20 short-term extensions of the highway bill to keep it from lapsing.

That’s no way to run a railroad.  Or a highway program.

The absence of a long term federal funding plan for our nation’s roads, bridges and tunnels is having a big negative effect on states, which are primarily responsible for building and maintaining our roads. As The Hill's Keith Laing recently reported (Advocates: Highway shutdown beginning), states already are beginning to postpone highway construction projects slated for this summer because of the uncertainty surrounding the May 31, 2015 expiration of federal highway funding.

What’s the solution? Congress needs to pass a multi-year surface transportation bill with a sustainable source of funds to pay for the repairs and improvements that our road system desperately needs. 

The American Road and Transportation Builders Association and dozens of other groups ranging from chambers of commerce, civil engineers and labor unions have asked Congress to increase the gas tax by up to 15 cents per gallon to support a multi-year bill that would pay for both repairs and improvements to our road system.  We agree with them.

In addition, we ask Congress to make a simple change in federal law that would allow states to tap into new sources of money for roads without increasing taxes or federal spending.  We ask Congress to give states the flexibility to place tolls on Interstate highways for the purpose of reconstructing those highways.  We are not talking about a mandate.  We are simply talking about giving states the right to have an open and honest debate as to whether they want to use tolls to rebuild their Interstate highways.  If a state legislature decides that tolling is an appropriate way to raise the funds needed to rebuild its Interstate highways, it should be allowed to do so.

Some would object to allowing states to place tolls on Interstate highways on the grounds that these highways are “already paid for.”  But as anyone who has driven over scores of potholes on the way to work knows, a road is never paid for.  Once it’s built, you need an ongoing stream of money to maintain it in good condition. There are no free roads.  And all roads need continuing maintenance to keep them safe and drivable. 

And tolling is not a new idea.  There are nearly 6,000 miles of toll roads, bridges and tunnels in the U.S. that generate more than $13 billion annually in toll revenues. The Interstate highway system includes nearly 3,000 miles of toll facilities.  This year the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the first U.S. superhighway, celebrates its 75th anniversary.  And more than 40 million users have electronic toll accounts that allow them to pay their toll without stopping and waiting.  Today’s tolling is both traditional and modern.

It is our hope that Congress will pass a multi-year transportation bill with a sustainable funding source that give states predictability in their road improvement plans.  And we stand ready to help them get this done. A stable funding source and new tools for states – such as the ability to toll the Interstate system for reconstruction – are what this country needs today to meet the needs of tomorrow.

Jones is executive director and CEO of the International Bridge, Tunnel & Turnpike Association (IBTTA).