Senate Considers Ill-Conceived Ban on Highway Tolls

Washington, D.C., March 12, 2012—The Senate is set to vote Tuesday on additional amendments to the massive surface transportation bill, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21, S. 1813). One amendment offered by Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) seeks to prohibit states from using new tolling to pay for federal-aid highways.  It’s a move that the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) believes would constitute a major step in the wrong direction.

Statement of Marc Scribner, CEI Transportation Policy Analyst

Much of the country’s 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.

The question is not if we pay for these improvements; it is how we pay for them. 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.

Sen. Hutchison’s amendment to the Senate surface transportation bill is a dangerous rejection of current transportation realities. While the prohibition on new tolling contained in the amendment is bad enough, it also cuts 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 projects.

In contrast, Democratic Senator Tom Carper (Del.) has offered his own amendment—supported by Senators Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.)—that would preserve and enhance the existing federal tolling programs.

It is extremely disappointing that some fiscal conservatives in Congress seem so intent on protecting socialized road funding. The Senate must reject any effort to roll back the progress that has been made with tolling in recent years.