A variety of interstate-tolling-related news items have appeared recently. As Congress debates a new multi-year highway bill (expectations are they’ll create a bill, though that, as well as ultimate passage, are far from certain), the tolling option as a method of funding state, and in some cases interstate, highway construction has continued to rise in prominence in the discussion. Below find a round-up of some of the latest news.
South Carolina launches tolling study for new I-73
The new interstate highway would run from Michigan to Myrtle Beach, S.C., and according to this story in the Myrtle Beach Sun News, the state of South Carolina’s Department of Transportation has launched a study into the feasibility of utilizing tolls on miles within state borders to help pay for the road. The study is in the early stages — i.e., the state’s primary transport commission has yet to be officially notified of a request for approval and approval itself is far from certain — and DOT Commissioner Mike Wooten reportedly estimated a $150K-$200K cost for completing the study. Read more on the subject via this link.
New York looking for greater authority to collect from toll evaders
The Henry Hudson bridge between the Bronx and Manhattan is the first toll bridge in the state to move from a mix of cash-only and EZ-Pass lanes to EZ-Pass exclusivity. While the move has certainly kept traffic flowing better on the (primarily non-commercial vehicle) bridge, this story from the White Plains, N.Y.-based Journal news reports, nearly 1 in 3 motorists crossing the bridge just doesn’t pay the toll, which has required mail-based follow-up to registered vehicle owners without EZ-Pass subscriptions to collect. All in all, over a five year period, more than $150 million in toll revenues has gone uncollected in the state, according to the story. “This takes inefficiency to a new level,” noted Hayes Framme of the anti-tolling group Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has a proposal to help various toll agencies collect, still under consideration in state budget negotiations. From the Journal News story:
Cuomo’s proposal — which remains part of budget negotiations — would allow the MTA, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the Thruway Authority to work with the state Department of Motor Vehicles to suspend the vehicle registrations of persistent toll dodgers.
Former Pennsylvania gov. still on the pro-tolls train
During his tenure at the head of the State of Pennsylvania, Gov. Ed Rendell’s administration sought numerous times through application to the federal government to toll I-80 in the state’s borders under a pilot program for tolling existing interstates, as I wrote in this brief on the long, unsuccessful saga (in part due to strong opposition from owner-operators). A story in the National Journal recently quoted Rendell praising the virtues of tolls as a funding mechanism:
The argument against tolling on federal highways has been, “We paid for it once.” OK, we paid for it once. … It’s like buying the $45,000 car of your dreams and for the next four or five years not putting a penny into it. It’s silly.
But isn’t that what the highway trust fund is for, i.e. maintenance of the existing interstate system as well as funding of new road projects?
He also reportedly argued that tolls were a more equitable way to fund roads with this quip: “The little old lady who doesn’t have a car—she doesn’t pay a dime.”
Again, the fuels-tax system of funding the highway trust fund to pay for maintenance and building of roads is a user-based system. That little old lady thus already doesn’t pay a dime — or very little in any case — on the federal highway system…