WASHINGTON — Speakers representing road and bridge builders and tunnel and toll associations recently made a plea at the nation’s capital for lawmakers to give states the flexibility to toll existing interstate highways.
Ed Regan of Wilbur Smith Associates said, “The interstate highway system is now more than 50 years old. Built with 90 percent federal funds at a cost of $130 billion, parts of the system are crumbling.
“Over the next 50 years, we will need to spend $2.5 trillion to rebuild the system and the bulk of that cost will fall to the states. If the states are expected to bear that burden to rebuild the interstate highway system, Congress should eliminate current federal restrictions on tolling of existing and new interstate highways.
“In short, if the federal government can no longer help solve the problem, it should at least get out of the way.”
Regan’s presentation was based on a paper titled “Building the Case for Tolling the Interstates” that he co-authored with Steven Brown, also of Wilbur Smith Associates. The article and other documents related to the event may be found at www.ibtta.org.
Seven other transportation spokesmen participated in the event, titled “Rebuilding America’s Interstate Highway System.” The event was organized by the International Bridge Tunnel and Turnpike Association and held at the offices of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.
“There is another tool that our governor wants us to look at: the flexibility to toll the interstate, “ said Greg Whirley, Virginia Department of Transportation Commissioner. “We have submitted an expression of interest to FHWA to toll I-95 from the North Carolina border to the Maryland state line. We believe that’s needed because we have a tremendous need for reconstruction, rehabilitation and maintenance. We have over a billion dollars of needs just on I-95. That does not even include the work that is needed on the bridges on I-95. We need long-term sustainable revenue. That’s why the flexibility to toll I-95 is important. It is one that we are going to work hard to get.”
Frank McCartney, executive director of the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission and president of IBTTA, said, “How do we get the Congress to have the courage to allow tolling of existing interstates? We heard from [Transportation] Secretary [Ray] LaHood at our legislative conference that he’s in favor of tolling new capacity, but not existing capacity.“
In that case, McCartney said, the message must be taken elsewhere.
“He [LaHood] said he doesn’t hear support for tolling from Congress, the governors or the states. Therefore, we need to get a message before the National Governors Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures. We need to make it an issue that they understand because their DOTs are strapped for options. We can utilize all the people in this room to spread the message that we need to have our interstate highways rebuilt with a sustainable revenue source. The best way we can do that is to get involved in these organizations and get them to start driving that message to Washington.”
“It is the worst environment for the passage of surface transportation legislation in the past 30 years,” said Pete Ruane, president and CEO of the American Road and Transportation Builders Association.
Other arguments made for tolling included a “fatally flawed” gas tax system, increasing construction costs and a growing need for “flexibility” in funding given the economy and the aging state of the infrastructure.
Dorothy Cox of The Trucker staff may be contacted to comment at email@example.com.
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