As the federal Highway Trust Fund moves dangerously close to becoming bankrupt, Congressional debate in the Department of Transportation has focused on the prospect of expanding highway tolling.
President Obama sent a $302 billion transportation plan to Congress this spring outlining his vision for improving the national infrastructure and bringing much needed revenue into the Highway Trust Fund. Called the Grow America Act, this bill would allow states to request permission to add tolls to existing highway lanes if passed by Congress. Currently, states are required to build new lanes if they want to add tolls and thus struggle to bring in enough revenue to maintain their highways and turnpikes. Obama hopes that by allowing more tolling under the Grow America Act, states will be less dependent on the federal government for infrastructure improvements.
The infrastructure initiative has been met with unusual support from conservatives and criticism from liberals. The Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank, has vocalized agreement with Obama’s plan to expanding tolling to help pay for new transportation projects. Though conceding they still disagree with much of the initiatives called for in the Grow American Act, The Reason Foundation feels that expanding tolling gives more power to the states and can help improve deteriorating infrastructure without putting the federal government further in debt. The International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (IBTTA) has also expressed support for Obama’s initiative to expand tolling options, citing that it is a historic move and a necessary addition to the federal gasoline and diesel taxes used to provide money for the Highway Trust Fund.
In contrast, the American Trucking Association (ATA) in partnership with the Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates have expressed concern over the expansion of tolling proposed by Obama. The trucking industry already is responsible for providing a great deal of the current state toll revenue and is resistant to accept expansion of tolling. Though the prospective revenue would go to infrastructure improvement and make driving easier on truckers, this system of tolling seems like an unattractive solution to much of the trucking industry.
As the Highway Trust Fund quickly depreciates, Congress will soon have to decide what to do with Obama’s Grow America Act and find a way to fund national infrastructure improvements.