The Last Word
- Created: 03.20.2017
The Trouble with Tolls
By Stephanie Kane
For transportation professionals, 2017 is shaping up to be a year of tolling. President Donald Trump’s infrastructure plan relies on tax credits to entice the private sector to build revenue-needy projects, which would undoubtedly lead to more tolls. It’s great to see the President recognizing the need for investment, but relying on tax credits that spur privatization as the main funding mechanism for any nationwide plan will fail to close the national infrastructure deficit. At the state level, elected officials are pushing for tolling existing interstates in Rhode Island, Indiana and Wisconsin.
The Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates (ATFI) was formed to oppose such tolling efforts and educate the public about the many negative impacts that tolling existing interstates has on our communities and businesses.
Of concern to Arkansas truckers and motorists is the national emergence of states trying to toll existing interstates. This opportunity is due to Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. The 2015 FAST Act allowed an 18-year old, never-used tolling pilot program to remain alive that permits three states to apply for a waiver from the federal prohibition against tolling existing interstates. The FAST Act imposed a time limit on the three states that have held but not used their “slots” for 18 years. New states, such as Arkansas, can now apply for a waiver under this pilot program.
ATFI opposes tolling existing interstates because tolls are bad public policy. Tolls wreak economic havoc on businesses and communities that rely on an unrestricted interstate highway system. Tolls cause traffic diversion and increased costs for businesses, employees and consumers, which disrupt economic landscapes and harm businesses and localities.
In short, tolls reroute prosperity around communities. When interstates go from being free to requiring a toll, people will find a way around using them. A 2013 study by the North Carolina Department of Transportation predicted that tolls on I-95 in the state would cause up to a 36% traffic diversion rate. Traffic diversion could shutter businesses as their potential customers move from the interstate to secondary and local roads. And the additional wear and tear will increase maintenance needs for local roads and shift costs to many local communities.
Adding tolls to existing interstates will increase costs for businesses and consumers. Shipping and trucking companies will face higher transportation costs, many of which will be passed down to their customers. In this way, tolls translate to an underhanded tax that leads to disrupted logistics, lower shipping volume and higher prices for end-product consumers. Fewer truckers on the road means fewer customers for businesses that serve highway users and economic challenges for communities that depend on the interstate system.
Not only are tolls on existing interstates bad for business, but they are a bad deal for states. The Pennsylvania Turnpike is losing millions of dollars every year, despite raising tolls. The Pennsylvania Auditor General has even said the plan to raise tolls every year until 2044 will not keep the turnpike out of financial trouble. After a state accepts tolling highways, tolls generally only go one direction: up!
There is no single, silver-bullet solution in transportation funding, but tolling is the worst financing option available. For example, when compared to an increase in the gas tax, tolls are terribly inefficient and waste money. The administrative costs associated with toll collection can be as much as 20%, even in a fully electronic system. Collection of the gas tax has an administrative cost of 1%, which leaves more money collected to go toward actual road construction and improvements.
As more and more elected leaders push for tolling this year, ATFI and its member organizations like the Arkansas Trucking Association will oppose any plan that wants to put tolls on existing interstates. We know that new tolls on existing highways cause immeasurable harm to businesses and communities. Instead of 2017 being the year of tolling, we are working to make it the year tolls are eliminated from the transportation funding conversation.
The idea of tolling existing interstates will not go away quietly. It will require a loud and active opposition to defeat it. To learn how you can lend your voice to the cause, visit tollfreeinterstates.com and sign the petition to keep our interstates toll-free.
Stephanie Kane is the spokesperson for the Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates, a national coalition of individuals, businesses and organizations that advocates solving our growing transportation needs without tolling our existing interstates.