Senate Should Reject Anti-Tolling Highway Bill Amendment

I previously wrote about Sen. Herb Kohl’s (D-Wisc.) terrible amendment to the Senate’s MAP-21 bill that would allow the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission to engage in antitrust regulatory harassment of the railroad industry, something they are currently and justifiably prohibited from doing. This is arguably the worst “germane” amendment, but another comes close.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) submitted Amendment 1568 [PDF], which is essentially the same as the Amendment 223 [PDF] to the House highway bill that was submitted by Rep. Quico Canseco (R-Tex.). The amendments seek to prohibit the use of federal funds for new tolling operations on all federal-aid highways, excluding the conversion of high-occupancy vehicle lanes to high-occupancy toll lanes. But Sen. Hutchison’s amendment takes it a step further by cutting from three to two the maximum number of projects allowed under the Interstate System Reconstruction & Rehabilitation Pilot Program. Currently, two of the three existing slots are filled by Virginia’s I-95 and Missouri’s I-70 [PDF] projects.

Much of the Interstate system is nearly 50 years old and will soon need to be completely reconstructed. Without expanded tolling or dramatic tax increases, there will not be enough funding available to complete these very important projects. Sen. Hutchison’s amendment, while supported by the trucking industry for obvious reasons, runs counter to sound transportation policy and should be opposed.

In contrast, Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.) submitted Amendment 1670 [PDF], cosponsored by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.), which would expand the existing tolling pilot program to 10 project slots, in addition to ending the 15-project cap on the Value Pricing Pilot Program. I would have loved to see this go much further, but the amendment is certainly a step in the right direction — especially in the context of the terrible policies backed by Sen. Hutchison and Rep. Canseco.

Without tolling as an available revenue collection mechanism, it will be all the more difficult to devolve transportation funding responsibility from the federal level and move toward more innovative public-private partnership models in the future. That long-term goal, I thought, was shared by libertarians and fiscal conservatives. It is disappointing that self-styled “fiscal conservatives” in Congress are so intent on protecting socialized road funding.