Lift federal tolling restrictions, US think tank says

Allowing states greater discretion on tolling interstate highways would help federal government leverage state and private dollars, officials said in an Eno Center for Transportation webinar.

Congress should lift restrictions on the tolling of US federal highways, current and former transportation officials said Thursday at a discussion hosted by the Eno Center for Transportation.

Participants in the discussion targeted a federal rule that limits states’ ability to toll interstate highways. Lifting the restriction, speakers said, would allow greater flexibility for states looking to rebuild their infrastructure.

“Toll revenues lessen the burden on state transportation budgets and allow them to spend their limited gas tax revenues on other projects,” said Patrick Jones, chief executive of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association.

Speakers pointed to President Donald Trump’s promise to deliver a $1 trillion infrastructure package and his administration’s stated aim to leverage non-federal dollars.

“Certainly tolls should be and can be considered as a possible revenue stream to leverage private investment, which is going to be a very, very substantial portion of the $1 trillion programme,” said Emil Frankel, an Eno senior fellow who served as assistant secretary for transportation policy under former President George W. Bush.

Under current law, states looking to collect tolls on interstate highways must go through an application process and reach an agreement with the federal government. The Bush administration had looked to scrap this restriction, Frankel said.

With the Trump administration looking towards private investment to rebuild the country’s infrastructure and with privately funded projects requiring a revenue source, tolling has received increased attention since the US presidential election last November.

A report issued by Moody’s last month predicted a growing number of US toll roads, driven by rising infrastructure needs and the lack of available funding.