Infrastructure investment is a rare Beltway issue where both sides can find common ground.
America’s roads, bridges, pipes and ports need sustainable funding to support a modern economy. And while we agree with Secretary LaHood and Governor Rendell’s call-to-action (“Building infrastructure for the future can bring country together”), we vehemently disagree with their policy prescription.
The call for “eliminating federal restrictions on tolling interstate highways,” is deeply misguided. Nationwide tolling, which would impose an additional tax on the 70 percent of goods moved by trucks, would be a disaster for the economy.
There is no single cure-all for transportation funding, but tolling existing interstates may create problems worse than the disease it seeks to treat. America’s interstates were built using tax revenue, and fuel taxes have paid to maintain them since. Any new toll is double taxation.
Since the inception of the Federal Interstate Highway System, the federal gas tax has always been the primary source of revenue for the construction and maintenance of federal interstate lanes. Every time a motorist puts gas in his vehicle, he is paying his or her share for interstate maintenance.
A new toll on an existing interstate forces a motorist to pay two taxes for that same road: a gas tax and a toll tax. Costs will go up throughout the entire supply chain, as logistics companies and retailers are forced to pass the higher cost of doing business onto customers.
Furthermore, tolls will force truck drivers and motorists to use secondary roads to avoid these new taxes. This diversion causes congestion and delays response times for emergency personnel who rely on these secondary routes to quickly get to and from accidents and emergencies.
A 2013 study on the consequences of tolls in North Carolina predicted that tolls would divert up to 36 percent of traffic to alternate routes, contributing to delays, traffic accidents, and wear and tear on smaller secondary roads that were not built to handle high traffic levels.
In addition, tolling is fiscally irresponsible. To claim nationwide tolling as “revenue-neutral” shows a willful disregard for people’s pocketbooks. Tolls are financially inefficient. Toll gantries cost millions of dollars to build and maintain.
Even with the latest technology, collection costs are 12 percent to 20 percent of revenue. Increasing fuel taxes and registration fees, on the other hand, does not increase collection costs, so nearly 100 percent of revenue can go toward infrastructure improvements.
Secretary LaHood and Governor Rendell admit that “most infrastructure projects will not attract enough private investment alone to bring them to fruition or to a state of good repair.”
With private investment ignoring most projects, most of the benefits will go to the corporations and new bureaucracies that will be created to milk motorists and truck drivers out of their hard-earned money while maximizing return on corporate investment.
Secretary LaHood and Governor Rendell are right: America needs a new wave of investment; but tolling existing interstates is the wrong way to go about it. We look forward to working with Congress and the new President to find solutions that solve our infrastructure investment challenges without damaging the economy or putting people at risk.
Jim Burg is the president and CEO of James Burg Trucking Co. David Congdon is the president and CEO of Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc.
The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.