As Congress searches for new revenue sources to help finance a new surface-transportation bill, the two leading proposals so far are quiet about widening the use of tolls.
There is a general prohibition on Imposing tolls on existing Interstate highway segments that now are toll-free. The exception is a pilot program established under the 1998 TEA-21 highway-transit measure that permits allowing tolls on up to three interstate "facilties", that is, a highway, bridge or tunnel.
FHWA has approved two stat proposals so far: Missouri I-70 in 2005 and a conditionsl approval last September to Virginia to put tolls on part of I-95 in the southern part of the state.
Toll advocates would like to end the general ban. But they have made little headway so far, judging by legislative proposals in the hopper.
In the House, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) unveiled a six-year surface transportation proposa, but that didn't include a provision to expand tolling.
That proposal has yet to be turned into an actual bill, but one may be coming soon.
In the Senate, the Environment and Public Works Committee unanimously cleared an $85-billion, two-year highway authorization, without language to broaden Interstate tolling.
Those bills could change as they move through committee and floor action, but so far it looks like the anti-toll side is winning.
Emotions are strong on both sides of the toll issue, as a recent debate on the issue demonstrated.
The sprited Jan. 10 debate, sponsored by the Eno Transportation Foundation, a Washington-based think tank, pitted Patrick Jones, International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association executive director and CEO, against Bill Graves, president and CEO of the anti-toll American Trucking Associations.
Debate moderator Joshua Schank, Eno Tk, said with Senate floor debate coming on highway bill, floor debate "could touch on this very issue with a growing recognition about the lack of revenues for surface transportation investment there is greater awareness and interest in private investment and the revenues that tolling can bring
Schank said a entry poll of attendees showed 71% sided with Jones in wanting to see the tolling ban lifted, and 20% wanted to keep the ban in place and 9% had no opinion.
Graves offered a Lettermanesque "Top 10" list of reasons why more Interstate tolling "is bad for America"
Among the reasons, Graves said was noted sat"tolling is not a feasible option in many parts of rural America." he also said tolls would cause traffic diversion and reduce safety. "tolls are a disincentive to use the most cost-efficient routes." He also noted that trucking companies' profit margins are low, in the 2% to 4% range. "therefore, companies will try to avoid tolls as much as possible." will lead to conression reduce safety.