(San Antonio, TX - April 30, 2014) It’s official. Yesterday, the Obama administration announced the president’s support of lifting the ban on tolling existing interstates. But the two leading grassroots organizations fighting for toll-free highways in Texas, Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) and Texans for Toll-free Highways (TFF), vehemently oppose such a proposition.
“Slapping tolls on existing toll-free highways is highway robbery and double taxation. We’ve already paid for these roads, and now Obama wants us to pay for them again by charging us a toll for every mile we drive on them. We’re not going to stand idly by and let the president steal our freeways and impose such a confiscatory tax scheme without our consent,” promises Terri Hall, Founder and Director of both groups.
Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx expects to shore-up the federal highway trust fund that used to be fully funded by gas tax receipts alone, with corporate tax reform, which is code for corporate tax hikes.
“So everybody is going to be hit with tax hikes under Obama’s proposal. Corporations and commuters alike,” Hall notes.
Hall’s Texas organizations are not alone. A new national group, Alliance for Toll-free Interstates (ATFI), that boasts corporate members such as UPS and FedEx, also opposes lifting the ban on tolling existing interstates.
Miles Morin, spokesman for ATFI told Overdrive.com: “Tolling existing interstates is inefficient, causes traffic diversion, and increases supply chain costs that hurt businesses and consumers. Transportation infrastructure needs improvements, but of all the ways to fund them, tolling existing interstates is the worst.”
Former Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison ensured Texans were protected against tolls on existing interstates when she imposed a ban in 2007 when the Texas Department of Transportation sent a report to congress asking to do so. TURF and TFF want that protection to remain in place.
Trucking companies aren’t happy either. American Trucking Association and Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association came out strong against the president’s bill citing tolls, tolling existing interstates, and using both toll revenue and gas taxes for projects other than highways -- ie, rail and transit.
Hall agrees: “This president has a love affair with rail, but the cost to build and maintain a rail system far exceeds the cost of roadways. Since the vast majority of travelers prefer the convenience and flexibility of the personal auto, the priority should be on highways. Using taxes imposed on motorists for rail is a form of socialism and yet another example of taxes collected for one purpose being diverted to another.”
Gas tax hasn’t kept up
The federal gas tax is a fixed amount - 18.4 cents a gallon - that’s remained unchanged since 1993. Since it’s not pegged to inflation, the revenues haven’t kept pace leading congress scrambling to shore-up the highway trust fund that’s going bankrupt. It currently costs about one penny a mile to use a gas-tax funded road (closer to two cents when you add in state gasoline tax). With the national average price of gasoline at $3.69 a gallon, increasing the gas tax is a non-starter with most politicians, however. In contrast, tolls cost between 10 cents a mile up to 95 cents a mile when the toll project is privatized in a public-private partnership. So tolls represent an explosion in the cost to travel and dwarf any increase in the gas tax.
In 2009, when his former Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood suggested a charge by the mile tax, Obama quickly slapped him down and said it was off the table. Imposing tolls on existing toll-free interstates is no less popular and is a form of charging travelers by the mile anyway.
Senate leadership has reached a tentative agreement on its highway bill that also includes tolling, public private partnerships, and billions in taxpayer-backed loans for toll projects. The House has not yet formally announced its bill. Conservatives favor reverting the highway program back to the states, but since most state highway programs receive approximately half of their funding from federal revenues, it’s unclear how this transition would occur.
To view a section by section analysis of the bill by the administration go here.
View the full text of the president’s bill here.