Obama Seeks to Lift Ban on Tolling Existing Interstate Highways

Tolling existing Interstates is inefficient, causes traffic diversion, and increases supply chain costs that hurt businesses and consumers. Transportation infrastructure needs improvements, but of all the ways to fund them, tolling existing interstates is the worst.  ATFI spokesman, Miles Morin


By Terri Hall | May 6, 2014


Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx and President Obama

It’s beyond belief to most ordinary working folks with the price of gas exceeding $3.50 a gallon, but President Barack Obama is now advocating lifting the ban on tolling existing Interstates as a means to raise revenue for transportation. The current highway bill, known as MAP-21, expires in September and the president and lawmakers alike are in a panic over how to fund the federal highway program in light of declining gas tax revenues that haven’t kept pace with inflation despite the price at the pump rising.

Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx announced that the administration expects to shore-up the federal highway trust fund that used to be fully funded by gas tax receipts alone, with corporate tax reform, which is code for corporate tax hikes. So everybody is going to be hit with tax hikes under Obama’s proposal; corporations and commuters alike.

A new national group, Alliance for Toll-free Interstates (ATFI), that boasts corporate members such as UPS and FedEx, also opposes lifting the ban on tolling existing interstates.

Miles Morin, spokesman for ATFI told Overdrive.com, “Tolling existing Interstates is inefficient, causes traffic diversion, and increases supply chain costs that hurt businesses and consumers. Transportation infrastructure needs improvements, but of all the ways to fund them, tolling existing interstates is the worst.”

Former Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison ensured Texans were protected against tolls on existing Interstates when she imposed a ban in 2007 when the Texas Department of Transportation sent a report to congress asking to do so. Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) and Texans for Toll-free Highways (TFF) want that protection to remain in place.

Trucking companies aren’t happy with the president’s proposals either. American Trucking Association and Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association came out strong against the president’s bill citing tolls, tolling existing interstates, and using both toll revenue and gas taxes for projects other than highways – i.e. rail and transit.

The cost to build and maintain a rail system far exceeds the cost of roadways. Since the vast majority of travelers prefer the convenience and flexibility of their personal automobile, the priority should be on highways. Using taxes imposed on motorists for rail is a form of socialism and yet another example of taxes collected for one purpose being diverted to another.

Gas tax hasn’t kept up

The federal gas tax is a fixed amount – 18.4 cents a gallon – that’s remained unchanged since 1993. Since it’s not pegged to inflation, the revenues haven’t kept pace leading Congress scrambling to shore-up the highway trust fund that’s going bankrupt because of diversions and overspending. It currently costs about one penny a mile to use a gas-tax funded road (closer to two cents when you add in state gasoline taxes). With the national average price of gasoline at $3.69 a gallon, increasing the gas tax is a non-starter with most politicians, however. In contrast, the average cost per mile in tolls ranges between 10 cents a mile up up to 95 cents a mile, when the toll project is privatized in a public-private partnership. So, tolls represent an explosion in the cost to travel and dwarf any increase in the gas tax.

In 2011, when his then-Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood suggested a charge by the mile tax, Obama quickly slapped him down and said it was off the table. Imposing tolls on existing toll-free Interstates is no less popular and is a form of charging travelers by the mile anyway.

Senate leadership has reached a tentative agreement on its highway bill that also includes tolling, public-private partnerships, and billions in taxpayer-backed loans for toll projects. The House has not yet formally announced its bill. Conservatives favor reverting the highway program back to the states, but since most state highway programs receive approximately half of their funding from federal revenues, it’s unclear how this transition would occur.

To view a section by section analysis of the bill by the administration go here and to view the full text of the president’s bill go here.


Terri Hall is the founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF), which defends against eminent domain abuse and promotes non-toll transportation solutions. She’s a home school mother of nine turned citizen activist. Ms. Hall is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.

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