Tolling bill would ask non-local users to pay more

Some transportation organizations oppose legislation U.S. House members recently passed that is aimed at protecting local residents’ toll discounts and asking non-local users, like truckers, to foot the bill.

Sponsor Rep. Michael Grimm said the Residential and Commuter Toll Fairness Act was designed to allow local residents to receive lower rates on area bridges and for the creation of new residential discount programs.

The New York Republican said the legislation is in response to the 2009 ruling in the Selevan vs. New York Thruway Authority, where the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit determined toll discounts for residents along the New York Thruway are unconstitutional.

Staten Island residents are the only New York City residents lacking subway access to the rest of the city and must use toll roads to drive off the island. “We face the longest commutes in the nation and pay exorbitant tolls to subsidize mass transit for other parts of our region,” Grimm said.

Forty minutes of debate preceded the House’s voice vote passage of H.R. 897. Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) entered into record a letter from Gregory Cohen, who heads the American Highway Users Alliance. The bill is not written narrowly enough to only apply to Staten Island residents, Cohen wrote.

If passed, it could lead to authorization of local tolling schemes that overcharge non-local motorists who do not vote at the local ballot box, he stated. These tolling plans could be implemented on the National Highway System, regardless of impact on interstate commerce. If states and other governing bodies begin tolling non-residents at higher rates than locals, it could hike interstate tourism and freight costs significantly.

Larsen said the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure did not hold hearings on the bill, which was brought to the floor without notice to Democrats and under suspension of rules.

The Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association also has voiced opposition to the bill.