Sec LaHood, Mica agree - no tolls on interstates except for extra pavement (COMMENT)

May 11, 2011
By Peter Samuel

The Obama Administration's Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, and Republican House Chairman John Mica seem to agree that US policy ought to embrace a newly restrictive rule: no tolls on interstates except when they fund new lanes. Present law going back to the 1990s also allows interstate tolls to fund reconstruction and rehabilitation and it also encourages tolls as congestion management via value pricing and express lanes -  developed often on existing HOV or general purpose lanes.

An interview broadcast May 10 in Rhode Island got Secretary LaHood talking about state Governor Lincoln Chafee's suggestion his legislature needs to consider tolls on I-95 in that state:

WPRI TV interviewer: Gov Lincoln Chafee wants to put tolls on I-95 here in Rhode Island  What are your concerns about turning the interstate into a tollroad?

Sec LaHood: What we have done at the (US) Department of Transportation (is we) have looked at proposals where states want to add capacity and use tolls to pay for that. We believe that is a good use of tolls. We do not believe it is a good use of tolls to toll roads that have already been paid for by taxpayers.  If a state or a governor or department of transportation wants to add capacity, add a lane or two lanes on each side, we think that is a good use of tolls and we have supported that kind of an approach. We don't support the kind of approach (of the Governor) though (on) roads that have already been built using taxpayer dollars then to be tolled.

WPRI TV interviewer:  From what I'm hearing, I just want to be crystal clear...(interrupted) what about using that money for repairs on highways...that sounds like it wouldn't fly from your perspective, you'd want to see lanes added?

Sec LaHood: we support tolling for adding capacity to roads. (end of discussion tolls)

Existing law allows tolls for rebuild, management

Under existing law the uses for tolls, other than extra capacity, have been "pilot programs" with limited numbers of projects but the specified numbers have never limited them in practice. A great deal of new tolling has been implemented in the past decade or is in the works via the value pricing and express lanes provisions, much of it without extra lanes - for managing existing capacity better by preventing it from clogging up with use of variable toll rates.

Using capacity better has also been the theme behind using tolls for reconstruction and rehabilitation.

LaHood seems to want to end these programs. And House Transportation Committee chairman John Mica has sounded a similar theme.

This is a major change from just a few years ago when preserving what we have - the catchcries were "fix it first" and "use it better."  This fix-it/use-it-szmarter was emphasized over lane additions.

In most urban areas it is often quite difficult to add lanes to roads because of land acquisitions needed and opposition from those affected. Often there are environmental objections.

Further the complete rebuild of overbridges and interchanges is required to accommodate extra lanes.

Not to say there shouldn't be extra lanes in many projects, but why shouldn't tolls be used equally for 'fixing it' (rehabilitation and reconstruction) and using-it-better (congestion pricing). Both LaHood and Mica seem to suggest that tolls should be ruled out because the existing lanes were "already paid for by taxpayers."

But what LaHood and Mica both say is completely illogical.

Roads go on costing from the ravages of traffic and weather and just plain aging. What was paid for by past taxes is often a road now falling apart and obsolete. It is an interesting historical item that taxes were used originally for construction of a particular interstate, and that tolls weren't.

But it has no bearing on what's best now for preserving or managing it now.

How the road was originally or once funded doesn't logically dictate that it must always be funded in the same way. These are politicians who claim to favor 'innovation' saying we should be chained to original funding.

Nothing is fairer than that present and future users of a road should pay for the road as they use it in road use charges (tolls) as opposed to taxpayers at large via higher taxes, or future generations in case of the use of debt being issued.

Motorists use roads voluntarily and will only use them when the value of the benefits they receive exceed the costs of the toll. Tolls ensure that demands on roadspace are limited to higher value trips.

If current tax revenues are not there, then saying that tolls can't be used except for extra lanes condemns motorists to deteriorating and inefficient roads, and precludes better management of existing capacity via variable pricing.

LaHood and Mica alike propose a major step backward - editor

Interview LaHood:

http://www.wpri.com/dpp/news/local_news/providence/us-dot-cool-to-chafees-I-95-toll-idea

FHWA on interstate reconstruction & rehabilitation program:

http://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/tolling_pricing/interstate_rr.htm

Express lanes:

http://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/tolling_pricing/express_lanes.htm

Value pricing:

http://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/tolling_pricing/value_pricing/index.htm

Tolling and pricing agreements:

http://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/tolling_pricing/toll_agreements.htm

on Chairman Mica's stance see second half of:

http://www.tollroadsnews.com/node/5247

TOLLROADSnews 2011-05-11

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