Driving in America: Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates Update

Editor’s Note: The National Motorists Association and the Alliance for Toll-free Interstates or ATFI are in agreement about tolls. ATFI recently emailed this newsletter out to supporters, outlining the latest tolling in America news from the summer and fall of 2019. The NMA has permission to repost its email newsletter in the Driving in America Blog.

ALLIANCE FOR TOLL-FREE INTERSTATES UPDATE

Despite all of the negative impacts of tolls, the growing use of tolling pilot programs, such as the Value Pricing Pilot Program (VPPP), and the federal bridge exemption illustrates that lawmakers throughout the country still view tolling as a viable option to raise funds for transportation needs. The Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates (ATFI) is committed to keeping existing interstates toll-free and open as they were intended.

At ATFI, we strive to educate the public, policymakers and the media about the negative ramifications that tolling existing interstates has on American communities and businesses and why it will not solve our transportation needs. Here are the states we have been monitoring and engaged in during 2019. We welcome your involvement to find substantial solutions for our country’s highway funding difficulties that don’t involve tolling existing interstates.

Click Here to sign the national petition to let the federal government know that you oppose the tolling of existing interstates!

Tolling News Summer and Fall 2019

  • Alabama– This summer, a proposed toll bridge on Interstate 10 (I-10) across Mobile Bay and Mobile River estimated at $6 each way for vehicles received a great deal of attention. This would be one of the nation’s largest infrastructure projects at over 10 miles in length and suspended hundreds of feet in the air above the water near downtown Mobile. While the bridge is badly needed, transportation officials claim the state could not afford this massive $2.1 billion project on its own. The hotly contested proposal had enormous public opposition and even state officials failed to reach a consensus. Despite Governor Kay Iver’s outspoken support, Lieutenant Governor Will Ainsworth voiced his opposition, calling it a burden on the region’s working families. At the end of August, Governor Ivey declared this plan dead after the Eastern Shore Metropolitan Planning Organization voted to eliminate it from its short-term plan. However, many residents fear that this tolling project might show up again in the near future.
  • Connecticut– Connecticut is undergoing a heavy battle on funding its Special Transportation Fund. At the start of the 2019 Connecticut General Assembly Session, Governor Ned Lamont went back on his campaign promises to not toll cars in the state by proposing to establish electronic tolls across the state. There are claims that tolls could raise $800 million annually, and as much as 40% of revenues could come from out-of-state travelers. However, information from the governor’s office had not been consistent by constantly changing details about the number, location and rates of the tolls. Republican legislators have offered a counter-proposal, named Prioritize Progress, which would steer clear of tolls. Lamont intends to call a special session on tolls before the 2020 regular session, but it has not been scheduled at this time. Update: The Governor came out with a new proposal the first week of November.
  • Florida – In the spring, Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law a bill that would create three new toll roads in western and central Florida, including Orlando. No studies have been completed that address whether the toll roads are needed, and basic questions about the projects are set to be figured out at a later time. The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) will manage the projects and have final say over whether the roads become reality. At the end of July, FDOT set up a website for public comments on these three toll projects. To learn more, see here: FloridaMCores.com.
  • New York– New York became the first American city to impose congestion pricing to alleviate traffic and raise money for other transportation needs in the spring. Beginning in 2021, motorists will have to pay to enter the heart of Manhattan.  The Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, which is a piece of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, will decide how to implement congestion pricing after a hearing to reflect on public comments and the findings of a traffic study.
  • South Carolina– Fortunately, South Carolina rejected tolls on existing interstates this year. At the request of the legislature, the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) completed a study recently about turning Interstate 95 (I-95) into a toll road. The comprehensive study examined how much it would cost to build the tollbooths and how long it would take the state to complete the project. The 199-mile stretch of I-95 would be separated into four points where a toll would be charged to cross each of four bridges. SCDOT found it would take the state 35 years to produce the money to pay for the project and cost an estimated $3.5 billion.
  • Rhode Island– In December 2018, the state announced that it would begin construction on the next 10 truck-only toll gantries on I-95. Despite opposition from major trucking groups and a lawsuit from the American Trucking Associations (ATA), the first toll booths opened in June 2018. In March 2019, the lawsuit from the ATA challenging Rhode Island’s truck-only tolls was dismissed by a federal judge who said the case needs to be tried at the state level. In early April, ATA appealed a federal judge’s ruling to dismiss the group’s lawsuit. Moreover, state officials say drivers crossing Rhode Island’s Newport Pell Bridge have tallied up $9.6 million in unpaid tolls, fees, and fines throughout the last six years.
  • Virginia– During the 2019 Virginia General Assembly Session, legislators considered several bills to toll Interstate 81 (I-81). ATFI partnered with the Virginia Trucking Association, Virginia Manufacturers Association, Virginia Forest Products Association, and several other trade associations to oppose the toll proposals. After the legislation was defeated, the General Assembly adopted a series of sales and gas tax increases and higher fees to fund improvements to I-81. This was a huge victory and complete reversal from the Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s original plan for tolls in January. His message was clear: Virginia rejects tolls on existing interstates.
  • Wisconsin– In July, Governor Tony Evers signed the two-year state budget while using his line-item veto power to eliminate several provisions. Most notably was a $2.5 million Department of Transportation study on mileage based fees and tolling. Governor Evers vetoed this provision, stating: “I am vetoing this section because I object to the financing of another study that will show, yet again, that the motor fuel tax is the most effective way to approximate a user fee of roadway use and the most cost-effective way to collect revenue. The Legislature has had more than enough evidence and enough time to study the issue. It is time for the Legislature to stop stalling and act to secure a long-term transportation funding solution.”
  • Federal – The United States Senate released the Investing in America’s Surface Transportation Infrastructure (IATA) Act, a comprehensive surface transportation reauthorization bill, which would expire in September 2020. The tolling highlights include a pilot program mentioned as the Congestion Relief Program. On September 11, the House Highways and Transit subcommittee held a hearing called “Pricing and Technology Strategies to Address Congestion on and Financing of America’s Roads.” Elected officials and six witnesses discussed whether tolling, congestion pricing or even a fuel tax is the best way to resolve congestion across the country. Darren D. Hawkins, CEO of YRC Worldwide Inc., spoke out against tolling existing interstates on behalf of the American Trucking Associations (ATA).

ATFI In The News

House panel debates merits of congestion pricing (Land Line Magazine, September 12, 2019) 

In early September, the House Highways and Transit subcommittee conducted a hearing titled “Pricing and Technology Strategies to Address Congestion on and Financing of America’s Roads.” Lawmakers and six witnesses debated whether tolling, congestion pricing or even a fuel tax is the best way to solve congestion for around the country. One of those witnesses was Darren D. Hawkins, CEO of YRC Worldwide Inc., on behalf of the American Trucking Association.

In submitted testimony, Hawkins explained why toll roads are a poor revenue source for highways. To start, collection costs are extremely high compared to other sources of revenue. In 2016, the Pennsylvania Turnpike spent more than $200 million to collect about $1 billion in tolls, or about 20%. Conversely, the cost to collect a federal fuel tax is just 0.2% of revenue.

Second, tolls lead to traffic diverting to neighboring roadways not equipped to handle the additional traffic. This is especially true for trucks.

“Specifically with regard to the trucking industry, whether a carrier decides to avoid a toll road depends on a number of factors, including the type of load, delivery deadline, whether the driver or carrier determines route choice, and whether the driver or carrier is responsible for toll costs,” Hawkins testified. “Note that the critical missing element here is the shipper. With few exceptions, the shipper is not directly billed for toll costs. Therefore, the carrier usually bears the cost of the toll and has to attempt to recover these costs by either improving efficiencies or increasing rates across the carrier’s entire customer base.”…

If you have a tolling story with a URL link, please send it to us, [email protected] for inclusion on our Driving News feed and the 5x/week email called Driving News Daily. To subscribe to DND, please click Here.

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