A forgotten method to rebuild America's aging infrastructure
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It comes as good news to the nation’s transportation leaders that President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpGiuliani goes off on Fox Business host after she compares him to Christopher Steele Trump looks to shore up support in Nebraska NYT: Trump had 7 million in debt mostly tied to Chicago project forgiven MORE and the 115th Congress agree that we need to rebuild our nation’s broken infrastructure that includes the failing roads, bridges and tunnels that make up our surface transportation system.

There are many proposals on how to pay for this massive undertaking. The co-chairs of Building America's Future—former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell—have offered a number of suggestions aimed at rebuilding our nation’s transportation infrastructure. Included among them, as recently outlined in an article in The Hill, is a recommendation for Congress to eliminate federal restrictions on tolling interstate highways for the purpose of reconstruction.

At the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (IBTTA), we agree. All options, including tolling, should be open for consideration. By eliminating the federal ban on tolling interstate highways, each state would be empowered to decide whether to implement tolling to raise revenues to rebuild their interstates if it makes sense to do so. Not by mandate, but by choice.

Toll roads are not a new concept. Toll roads have existed for at least the last 2,700 years, as tolls had to be paid by travelers using the Susa–Babylon highway under the regime of Ashurbanipal, who reigned in the 7th century BC. The first modern long-distance toll road in the United States—part of the Pennsylvania Turnpike connecting Carlyle and Irwin—opened for traffic in 1940, more than 75 years ago.

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Toll facilities are only increasing in popularity. American drivers’ use of toll roads, bridges and tunnels increased 7 percent from 2014 to 2015, according to an IBTTA study last year.

Technology is part of the reason for that. Transponders make using toll roads easy, eliminating the need to stop at toll plazas, and improving travel time. The technology is spreading rapidly. There were 50 million transponders in use in 2015, up from 30 million in 2010, according to a recent IBTTA technology report.

Of course, there are arguments against tolling. But those who say that tolls amount to “double taxation” fail to understand that many toll roads receive no state or federal funding and drivers always have a choice to use the toll facility or not.

In 2013, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that tolling is not a tax. Furthermore, a 2012 Reason Foundation study found that the cost of collecting tolls in a mature all electronic tolling (AET) environment can be as low as 5 percent of the revenues collected.

We must all face the fact that the federal and state gas taxes are insufficient to pay for the upkeep and construction of our nation’s major infrastructure. The federal gas tax hasn't been increased since 1993, and the amount collected continues to lag far short of the levels necessary to maintain our highways.

Since 2008, Congress has transferred more than $140 billion from the general fund to the highway trust fund. Gas taxes alone are clearly not paying for our transportation network.

We can all agree that if we don't find a sustainable way to pay for the maintenance and improvement of our interstate highway system, it will fall into greater disrepair. The bottom line is that transportation experts agree there's no silver bullet to fix this enormous and expensive challenge.

But one thing is certain: the solutions we devise will require innovative thought and a combination of public and private financing mechanisms. It will be expensive, but the cost of doing nothing is far higher and will inevitably ruin our economy and safety.

Toll roads are not the answer for every infrastructure problem. But Americans continue to recognize the ease of use, time savings and improved safety provided by today’s well-maintained toll roads.

That’s an infrastructure investment option that will continue to make America great.

Patrick D. Jones is chief executive officer of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association, whose mission is to advance toll financed transportation.


The views of Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.