Report: Half the states have tolls or plan them

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A new federal report on tolling says that half the U.S. states have toll roads or are planning them, and public support is among the factors that allow for successful implementation. Getting public and political support for toll roads can be difficult, states the Government Accountability Office’s new report, “States’ Expanding Use of Tolling Illustrates Diverse Challenges and Strategies.”

Opponents argue tolls are double taxation, don’t cover the full cost of upgrades and are unfair to some groups. Other hurdles include obtaining the authority to toll, coordinating with multiple jurisdictions and discouraging motorists from taking non-toll roads to save money. States that succeeded in adding tolling employed certain strategies, the GAO found. They included:

  • Legislation to facilitate tolling, as in Texas;
  • Strong leadership to support toll projects, as in Minnesota, where officials appointed a task force to explore tolling; and
  • Presentation of concrete benefits and choices that tolling may offer to a user. Toll pricing on California’s Interstate 15, for example, is designed to maintain a free flow of traffic in the toll lane.
  • States anticipate a doubling of freight traffic in the next 20 years and traditional revenue sources may not be sustainable. The baby-boom generation is retiring, and federal defense and entitlement program costs are increasing, making it unlikely that substantial jumps in federal highway spending will occur.

    States are seeking other funding mechanisms, including tolling. Tolls can provide new revenue and potentially leverage existing revenue sources by increasing private-sector participation, the GAO report says. Tolling also can decrease congestion by inspiring drivers to share rides, use public transportation, drive in off-peak times or take less crowded roads, the GAO report says.

    The GAO report contained no recommendations, and transportation department officials indicated in the report they generally agreed with the conclusions. Trucking groups generally have opposed tolling, while road-building organizations have tended to support it.

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