The United States of toll roads
By Laris Karklis and Reid Wilson
May 1, 2014
Imagine flying down the open road in Texas, where the speed limit is something like 150 miles an hour. You’ll experience the fresh air, the thrill of the open road — and, if you’re on certain highways, the hassle of slowing down and tossing a handful of quarters at a toll booth.
Texas is one of 29 states that charges drivers money to travel on certain roads. Texans pay for the right to drive on 503 miles of roads, both interstate and non-interstate. Florida drivers pay tolls on 719 miles of roads, while New Yorkers, Pennsylvanians and Oklahomans all fork over money to travel more than 550 miles of roads.
Under a new proposal from the Obama administration, a lot more of us might be paying tolls in the future. Our colleague Ashley Halsey reports the Obama administration’s version of a transportation bill would reverse a long-standing federal prohibition on most interstate tolling.
“We believe that this is an area where the states have to make their own decisions,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “We want to open the aperture, if you will, to allow more states to choose to make broader use of tolling, to have that option available.”
The possibility of more toll roads is emerging as an alternative source of funding for the 46,876-mile interstate system. With more fuel-efficient cars hitting the road, the 18.4-cent federal gas tax no longer provides the revenue necessary to maintain infrastructure.
Toll roads would be a minor part of the new funding structure. The White House proposal relies on funding that would come from a series of corporate tax reforms, most of them one-time revenue sources that would close the highway trust fund deficit and provide an additional $150 billion above gas tax revenue.
Labor and transportation interest groups mostly favor raising the gas tax to cover the expected $63 billion shortfall over the next four years.