Many states have expressed a growing interest in tolling as the introduction of more fuel-efficient vehicles has dramatically eroded the buying power of fuel tax revenues, which historically have represented their largest source of transportation funding. Tolling is also seen as a true “user fee” in that the toll revenues collected from system users are reinvested back into the maintenance and improvement of the system.
Here are other reasons why states should have flexibility to implement tolling on their Interstate routes if they choose:
Federal resources are scarce
The federal Highway Trust Fund has been able to meet the authorized funding levels contained in current surface transportation only through $35 billion in funding transfers from the general Treasury. The 18.4-cent federal gasoline tax has not changed since 1993 and there appears to be little appetite for increases in the upcoming reauthorization. Most states are projecting federal funding cuts of up to 35% under scenarios that would limit federal transportation investment to current revenues. If the federal government won’t help solve the large infrastructure problems most states face, it should at least provide states the tools they need to address the problems on their own.
Fuel taxes are on the way out
Increased fuel efficiency helps reduce our dependence on foreign oil. But fuel efficiency also deprives states of the resources needed to improve their transportation infrastructure. Nearly every state is struggling to re-tool how it pays for transportation now that volume-based fuel taxes can no longer reliably generate revenues that grow with inflation and the demands created by enhanced mobility. Federal fuel-efficiency fleet standards will increase to 36 miles per gallon by 2016 and quite possibly much higher in the future. As states search for viable funding alternatives to shrinking fuel tax revenues, Interstate tolling should be at the top of the list.
Let the states decide
The federal government paid up to 90% of the cost to build the original Interstate system, a key reason for the present-day limits on Interstate tolling. However, that initial investment has long since elapsed and states face a much higher price tag in reconstructing the system with the federal government as a smaller partner. States ought to have the option (it is not a requirement) to toll their Interstates as they develop long-term reconstruction plans.