Diverse group urging US Congress to allow states more discretion to toll
By Peter Samuel
2012-05-16: A large and diverse bipartisan group of transportation specialists has signed a two page letter urging that states and local government be given more discretion to use tolls to fund roads. The letter addressed to house and senate leaders forming a conference committee is being delivered to offices of others on Capitol Hill who may a say in any the different 'reauthorization' efforts.
The letter begins: "As the Senate-House conference on the reauthorization of the surface transportation authorization bill begins, we hope that there will be significant attention directed towards enhancing the capacity of states and localities to attract new and expanded sources of investment capital...We urge you to eliminate federal barriers to state and metropolitan flexibility and innovation, in raising investment capital and in generating revenues."
The Senate's MAP21 bill fails to expand the various pilot programs under which tolling is allowed on interstates and other federal aid highways.
The letter: "Congress does not seem inclined to raise funding for surface transportation through increasing federal motor fuels taxes or by replacing those taxes with other dedicated funding. In the absence of new funding sources, at a minimum, Congress should provide states and metropolitan regions with the tools to develop and expand their potential sources of revenue and investment capital. To that end, federal barriers to state innovation and flexibility should be substantially reduced, and no new ones should be erected."
The letter says adoption of the Senate's anti-tolls position would deny several states the right to toll interstate reconstruction and prevent the extension of benefits of tolling such as variable toll rates to manage congestion.
"Fifteen states are currently moving major projects forward thanks to innovations allowed under the Value-Pricing Pilot Program, Urban Partnership Agreements, and Congestion Reduction Demonstration Programs, and we would not want to see the pace of these innovations falter. More fundamentally, in failing to include such provisions in MAP-21, the Senate has denied states and metropolitan regions the ability to create innovative and flexible programs to finance their transportation needs, as federal funding stagnates or declines."
The letter expresses concern that the senate bill would discourage private investment or P3s through private activity bonds and more restrictive depreciation rules.
"We are also are concerned that certain provisions incorporated into MAP-21 could discourage states from partnering with the private sector and from developing innovative tools to attract private capital to transportation investment, for fear of losing a percentage of federal funding. These provisions would also eliminate the option to use private activity bonds (PABs) to finance leased highway projects and would substantially lengthen depreciation timetables for long-term highway leases, making them less attractive to investors. (Such provisions) do not respect the ability of states and localities to make such determinations of the public interest on behalf of their citizens and would make it more difficult to attract important new sources of investment capital for transportation infrastructure."
The letter has the logos of the Bipartisan Policy Center and Reason and is signed by a wide array of transportation specialists including think tankers, lobby groupists, and others.
copy of the letter: