States would be allowed to determine whether tolling is an ideal funding option for road projects, under an infrastructure blueprint included in the Trump administration’s fiscal 2018 budget request to Congress.
“Tolling is generally restricted on interstate highways. This restriction prevents public and private investment in such facilities,” according to the administration’s plan unveiled May 23. It added, “We should reduce this restriction … and weigh the relative merits of tolling assets.”
Under current law, states looking to add tolls along new highway lanes need an exemption. Lifting the federal ban on tolling interstate highways falls under Congress’ purview. Missouri, North Carolina, and Virginia had been awarded exemptions on tolling expansion under a pilot program.
"While ATA is encouraged by the apparent focus on infrastructure investment in this budget, an investment we strongly support and look forward to helping the administration and congress shape, we are deeply concerned by the proposal to loosen the restrictions on interstate tolling,” said Bill Sullivan, American Trucking Associations executive vice president for advocacy. “Quite simply, time and again, proposals to use tolls to fund highways have failed.”
Full-scale removal of the federal tolling ban is strongly opposed by trucking executives who view tolls along interstates as double taxation. Proponents of tolling, however, praised the move by the administration.
“Congress should give states access to one more tool in the toolbox by allowing them to toll their interstate highways specifically to rebuild them. This wouldn’t be a mandate; no state would be required to toll their interstates. This would simply give states an option, the flexibility to choose tolling if it makes sense to them,” said Patrick Jones, CEO of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association.
As part of the budget request, $200 billion in federal funds is proposed to help incentivize private investment in infrastructure over a decade. Tolls are examples of public-private partnerships.
“Unfortunately, the United States no longer has the best infrastructure in the world,” according to the budget. “If the United States continues to underinvest in infrastructure, we will continue to fall further and further behind our peers and our economic performance will suffer.”
The plan also stated the federal government should play a supporting role in encouraging the efforts of states and municipalities seeking to increase funding for infrastructure. In recent years, nearly two dozen states have raised fuel taxes to fund big-scale transportation projects.
“Localities are better equipped to understand the right level — and type — of infrastructure investments needed for their communities,” according to the plan.