Ray LaHood, John Mica both out of touch with US public opinion in hostility to tolls on interstates

August 23, 2011

US secretary of transportation Ray LaHood (Dem) and US House of Representatives transport committee chair John Mica (Repub)  are both out of touch with public opinion in their hostility to use of tolls to rebuild interstates and relieve congestion - according to surveys by the big Kansas City based engineering firm HNTB. Asked which tolls they'd be "most willing to support"  42% of a survey group chose "Tolls used to improve (reduce) congestion", 29% chose "Tolls used to improve existing highways," 15% said "Tolls used to construct new highways," 15% "Tolls used to maintain existing highways."

Poor road conditions are mentioned most often as the major problem, suggesting the public - if not politicians - are attuned to the priority that needs to be given to the existing system, as opposed to adding capacity.  54% mention poor road conditions compared to 25% who say there are "Not enough lanes."

These numbers come from a regular HNTB sponsored survey called THINKS in which a random nationwide sample of 1,000 Americans were polled in the last week of May, 2011. The poll was conducted by Kelton Research. They say the sample was designed to be representative of the US population over age 18. Margin of error is put at +/- 3.1%.

HNTB says: "Previous America THINKS research has shown many Americans prefer tolling over increased gas taxes. This latest HNTB survey shows many Americans (66 percent) also would like their toll money to go toward solving the wear-and-tear and congestion issues that cause so many to have problems with our highways."

A 2010 poll by HNTB was consistent with this. It asked a question as to what funding mechanisms people would supporter for "longterm transportation improvements?"  39% said they would supported tolls, 29% public transport fares, 23% vehicle registration fees, 20% sales taxes, 18% the gas tax, 11% income tax, 9% property taxes. 24% supported "nothing."

HNTB's conclusion: "The findings show most Americans support tolls on roads and bridges to generate transportation revenue, especially when it saves them drive time. When it comes to construction, they prefer a focus on fixing existing infrastructure (with tolls) rather than new facilities."

Sad to say the American public are way more open to enhanced use of tolling than politicians like LaHood and Mica, and also have a better sense of what priorities should be than these talking-head politicians.

LaHood, Mica lag behind public thinking

With traffic hardly growing in most parts of the country the past eight years or so - longer ago than the housing bubble great recession of 2008 - the overwhelming urgency is to find a new revenue source to take the place of the dying gas tax to fund the rebuilding, the management and the modernization of the country's expressway system, and its interstates in particular.

But LaHood and Mica have several times in recent months said, independently, they favor having a bar in US law against states using tolls on interstates except to expand capacity. That would be a major step backward for tolling in America since tolls are already used on most major bridges on interstates, on several thousand miles of existing interstate highway, and specifically for traffic management and rebuilding in very successful federal pilot programs - the value pricing and reconstruction pilot programs.

Redneck mantra: "we already payed"

Neither LaHood nor Mica have explained what is behind their hostility to tolls for interstate rebuild and traffic management. Some say they are pandering to what we call the redneck mantra "We already payed for the interstate with our gas tax. A toll would be double taxation."

It's a "redneck mantra" because it is so dumb, devoid of logic, just boneheadedly stupid.

The gas tax may have paid for construction in the past, but so what? That's history. In an earlier era the road was paid for with the sweat of slaves?

Or else it was built and periodically rebuilt with compulsory labor - the so-called 'levee' under which all males aged 16 to 65 were legally required to show up with pick and shovel for five days labor per year on the roads under penalty of fines.

What is paid for most recently with gas tax money is now rusting and crumbling. It is used up. It is worn out. It features obsolete designs of an earlier era. It is now in urgent need of renewal, modernization, rebuild, design improvements, and better maintenance and management.

"You won't get a contractor out there by telling him 'It is already paid for.'

"It requires new money."

The redneck mantra apparently feared by the bipartisan duo of LaHood and Mica can be challenged with the question: "How else should we fund modernization, rebuild and management? Higher gasoline taxes? A federal vehicle registration fee? More local sales taxes? More property tax? Or tolls?"

And you answer your own question with: "Tolls are a direct fee for use of the newly modernized road. Isn't having the user pay the fairest since it the users of a modernized road who benefit. And it is not fairest to have users pay according to how much they use and benefit by the modernization - a per trip charge or toll?"

Pete Rahn, HNTB's leader, national transportation practice, and a former chief executive of Missouri DOT writes in a separate piece: "The challenge for all DOTs is how to pay for the reconstruction of existing interstate highways. Eventually, tolling those will become the only solution. "





NOTE: US secretary of transport Ray LaHood like President Obama is a former congressman from Illinois. LaHood ran as a Republican then we're told. Since joining the Obama administration LaHood has embraced all the enthusaisms of liberal Democrats for environmentalist policies and against road-based mobility. Early on in his tenure as secretary he talked of the need to "coerce" Americans out of their cars. He's all for big spending on rail transit and highspeed rail and shows little interest in the transport mode - roads - found most practical by most Americans. We think as part of a Democrat administration he is better described as a Democrat, whatever his formal affiliation. We'll continue to stick '(Dem)' after his name as long as he pushes purely Dem policies - editor.

TOLLROADSnews 2011-08-22 NOTE: 2011-08-23 12:40

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