“We’ve gotten precious little help from the federal government,” Pennsylvania State Representative Tim Hennessey recently said as he touted his support for a new network of tolls on the commonwealth’s major bridges. States are pleading for more federal help as our nation continues to work on rebounding from the crippling economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. When it comes to transportation funding, that may soon mean a proliferation of tolls nationwide. But implementing tolls would only exacerbate the strain on the economy, negatively impacting businesses attempting to reopen, increasing the cost of goods, and diverting heavy traffic to rural roads. Tolling is an inefficient means of collection that hurts families and businesses alike.
The Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates (ATFI) is dedicated to keeping existing interstates toll-free and open as they were originated. At ATFI, we seek to inform the public, policymakers, and the media about the negative implications of tolling existing interstates on American communities and businesses and why it will not solve our rising transportation needs.
States to Watch
- Alabama – Baldwin County residents made their voice heard on Election Day by voting down a constitutional amendment that would have allowed the county to create a toll authority to finance the last portion of the 24-mile Baldwin Beach Express. The toll authority referendum was defeated by a 55.7% to 44.3% margin on November 3. This victory against tolls comes as residents in the Yellowhammer state are still upset over last year’s proposed toll bridge for Mobile River and their continued distrust with tolling.
- California – The Metropolitan Transportation Committee’s plans to significantly expand Bay Area tolling continue forward. Congestion pricing would also be implemented eventually on most, if not all, lanes of Bay Area freeways. Currently, express lanes are being added to Highway 101 in San Mateo County, including a recent approval of $40 million from the state. MTC is using this project as a stepping stone for the proposed tolling expansion. All-lane tolling may begin as early as 2022, with expanded tolling not being implemented until 2035.
- Florida – Just last year, the Florida Legislature approved the Multi-Use Corridors of Regional Significance (M-CORES) proposal to construct 330 miles of new toll roads throughout rural parts of the state. In mid-August, the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously to throw away the plans, reaping praise from motorists and nature preservation groups alike. Monroe County Commissioners are also considering tolling non-Florida residents on the scenic Overseas Highway on U.S. 1 leading to the Florida Keys. In the early fall, the M-CORES Task Force issued its final report, which showed there is little to no need for any of the proposed toll roads. The choice of suggesting that the northern connector not be installed was not offered to that task force. With budget cuts in Florida’s future, once the tax coffers are complete, these initiatives could be placed on the shelf.
- Michigan – Michigan currently only collects tolls on bridges like the Mackinac Bridge, the Blue Water Bridge, and the International Bridge. However, the legislature and Governor gave the Michigan Department of Transportation the green light to study toll roads this summer. Michigan officials must now hire an independent consulting firm to study the feasibility of collecting tolls on interstates, toll amounts, economic impact, and how the state would pay for the toll. Michigan’s Department of Transportation voiced its support for the bill and is specifically interested in the feasibility of tolls on Interstates 75, 94, and 96.
- Oregon – The Oregon Department of Transportation collected public comment on plans to toll I-205 from more than 4,600 people and organizations, including hearing from ATFI. The comments focused on diversion on to local streets, the effect on underserved and underrepresented communities, and maintaining the choice of a toll-free route. Over the next two months, ODOT and the Federal Highway Administration will consider the comments. ODOT will publish a response for how the public comments will be addressed in early 2021. In August, a petition initiative to let voters decide whether the state should toll existing roads or bridges failed to garner the required number of signatures to appear on the fall ballot. The state is also looking at tolling portions of I-5. The Joint Interim Committee On The Interstate 5 Bridge has met several times over the past year and includes lawmakers from Oregon and Washington.
- Pennsylvania – In November, Pennsylvania’s Public-Private Transportation Partnership (P3) Board approved an initiative to toll major bridges throughout the state. Through the “Major Bridges P3” program, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) hopes they can rebuild the state’s infrastructure while taxing it’s traveling public. Unfortunately, this did not require general assembly approval, so voters had no say in whether critical bridges that support Pennsylvania’s economy will see long-term tolling in the coming years. Tolling bridges is a bad deal for Pennsylvania drivers, and ATFI will continue to engage state leadership with appeals to abandon going down this misguided path. PennDOT is accepting public comment on funding using tolls until December 17 via this webform: https://www.penndot.gov/about-us/funding/Pages/Contact-Us.aspx.
- Federal – With the recent election of President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice-President-Elect Kamala Harris, ATFI and the transportation industry eagerly await to see whether infrastructure funding will be an early priority for the Biden Administration. We will be working to educate the incoming President and his transportation team about the negative consequences of tolling existing interstates, such as high operating costs, significant traffic diversion, and disproportionate effects on local communities. Our national transportation network will prosper with direct federal investment and the use of more efficient, effective, and reliable ways to generate additional funding for transportation infrastructure.
ATFI continues to be the voice of the anti-tolling movement at the national and state level. As these efforts move ahead, please join us in saying No to Tolls! We must keep highways open!
After you sign the national petition, be sure to spread the word by sharing this with your friends, family, and colleagues to do the same!