WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Transportation on Tuesday asked Congress to end the prohibition on tolling existing interstate highways as a way of paying for their reconstruction, marking a major shift away from how the system has been funded for decades.
The proposal is part of President Obama's $302 billion infrastructure bill aimed at addressing a looming shortfall in the federal Highway Trust Fund. States are currently able to toll interstates only to add lanes, but many simply don't have the funds they need to widen or rebuild the oldest sections of interstate, and nor does the federal government.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said Tuesday that the federal Highway Trust Fund is set to run out of cash in August, a scenario that would hurt most states. According to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, a trade group, 31 states rely on federal funds for more than half their highway and bridge improvements.
McClatchy reported two years ago that three states - Missouri, North Carolina, and Virginia - were considering tolls to rebuild their oldest interstates under a federal pilot program limited to three applicants. None of the states has enacted tolling on those highways, but Tuesday's proposal would grant that option to every state.
Longtime advocates of expanded tolling lauded the proposal. Pat Jones, executive director and CEO of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association, noted that 35 states had used tolling as a "proven and effective option" for infrastructure improvements.
"We applaud the administration for taking the bold step of proposing to lift the ban on interstate tolling," Jones said.
Still, the trucking industry and motorist groups renewed their opposition Tuesday. Toll opponents argue that payment collection systems are inefficient, that they raise costs for businesses and consumers, and that they divert traffic to local roads that were never designed for large volumes of traffic.