The release of President TrumpDonald TrumpOmar, Muslim Democrats decry Islamophobia amid death threats On The Money — Powell pivots as inflation rises Trump cheers CNN's Cuomo suspension MORE’s much-anticipated national infrastructure strategy introduces a powerful new catalyst for state and local governments to deliver the safe, efficient roadways the country needs and deserves.
With its emphasis on leveraging a mix of private and public funding sources to gain access to federal dollars, the strategy shines a bright, new light on tolling as a form of revenue generation and congestion relief that already delivers economic dividends across the country.
And by offering greater flexibility for states to toll interstate highways to help cover reconstruction costs, the White House plan addresses a long-standing obstacle to reversing a decades-long crisis in transportation infrastructure funding.
How to Build an Infrastructure Plan
For the infrastructure plan to succeed, governments across the land will have to cope with a stark fact: after decades of underfunding, America’s highways need more maintenance and reconstruction than any jurisdiction can afford, at a higher cost than decision makers have been willing to pay.
Last year, the American Society of Civil Engineers graded the country’s roads a D and its bridges a C+. It calculated a $123-billion funding backlog for bridge rehabilitation, and a $160-billion annual price tag due to highway congestion and traffic delays.
So the White House plan must strike a careful balance between the urgency of the infrastructure deficit, limited public appetite or political support for higher taxes, and the simple reality that no level of government has the financial resources to solve the problem on its own.
Tolling isn’t the right answer in every circumstance. But it’s an essential tool in the funding toolbox, a proven solution that speeds up projects and delivers a steady, reliable funding stream to supplement scarce public dollars. It frees up public transportation funds for other priority projects, helping states stretch their limited budgets.
America’s 129 tolling entities already operate 327 toll roads, bridges, and tunnels in 35 states. They account for nearly 6,200 miles of roadway—including some of the nation’s highest-capacity, interstate quality highways, many of which would never have been built without toll revenue.
Just stop for a second and think where all those drivers would be without the 327 toll facilities.
Americans take 5.7 billion trips on tolled facilities each year, often along the country’s most heavily-used commuter roads and freight routes. If highway transportation is the circulatory system of the U.S. economy, tolling is the shot of adrenaline that keeps the system flowing.
When you’re facing down a crisis, you win by deploying every resource at your disposal. Tolling delivers faster, more reliable mobility allowing for a better quality of life, not only for toll users, but for drivers on secondary roads that are less congested thanks to the additional tolled capacity. It’s a powerful success story in its own right, and an important piece of the success the White House has now set out to build. And this isn’t the first White House administration to recommend lifting the ban on tolling interstates.
How Tolling Transforms Communities
For a snapshot of tolling as a regional economic driver, look no farther than the E-470 highway outside Denver. Since the first segment of the 47-mile road opened in 1991, we’ve added $35.8 billion in additional real estate valuation along the corridor and created 132,000 jobs that would not otherwise have been there.
We’ve helped the region attract 407,000 new people, many of whom would never have come if not for the mobility and jobs a modern toll road makes possible.
Without E-470, Denver-area drivers would spend an astonishing 14.8 million additional hours stuck in traffic each year.
In the two years since I joined E-470 as executive director, the corridor has welcomed new distribution centers for Amazon and UPS and several new housing developments. Walmart has bought land for a major logistics facility. Gaylord is about to complete a big, new hotel and event center. It adds up to a massive buildout of secondary development, made possible in part by toll-funded mobility.
And Denver-Aurora isn’t alone.
In California, the Transportation Corridor Agencies, (joint powers authorities comprised of local cities), used private investment to construct a 51-mile network that represents 20 percent of the centerline miles in Orange County. The facilities account for more than 300,000 trips per day and carry 40 percent of the rush hour traffic in the southern part of the county where they are located. The Agencies also have an impressive environmental track record that includes 2,000 acres of sensitive native. Orange County’s toll roads provide critical alternative routes to the region’s congested freeway system to support mobility, the economy and quality of life.
The Pennsylvania Turnpike uses an award-winning, web-based app to maximize highway safety during extended traffic stoppages. 511PAConnect pushes Amber Alert-style texts to help mobile users sign up for incident and safety alerts, making it easier for responders to anticipate travelers’ needs.
And the Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission is offering up its 241 miles of long, flat roadway as a test bed for future vehicle technology, using its end-to-end fiber optic network to monitor the performance of autonomous trucks and truck platoons.
Tolling is one funding source in a larger highway infrastructure investment program. At the right time and in the right place, toll roads are already creating opportunities for American citizens and businesses that would not otherwise be available to them. With the White House infrastructure plan bringing a long-standing funding crisis into focus, tolling stands ready to help build the solution, and we commend the president for perceiving the opportunity.
Tim Stewart is President of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association and Executive Director of the E-470 Public Highway Authority.