The American highway system was one of the largest construction projects undertaken by modern man and stands as an engineering wonder to this day, in many respects. However, many states are having difficulties keeping them maintained and asking Congress for dispensation to add toll roads.
No free lunches or highways
Most motorists use part of the nation’s highway system on a daily basis. When the United States built the highway system, it was among the most ambitious and challenging tasks set before modern man, eclipsed in size only by the road network of the Roman Empire.
However, as more people populate and drive in the U.S., the highways endure more wear. Subsequently, the roads need more repair and maintenance, which is not free. Not only are federal and state highways not free to repair, they are also underfunded.
According to the Detroit Free Press, a federal task force found in 2009, that federal and state highway infrastructure maintenance was being underfunded by a collective $137 billion per year. By 2035, the nation’s road system will have $2 trillion worth of unfunded but necessary repairs.
No tolls where people roll
Several states, according to AutoBlog, are asking Congress to allow them to open toll roads on federal highways. Federal law prohibits all but 15 states from collecting tolls on highways built with federal funds. Pilot programs are currently underway, according to the Detroit Free Press, in Virginia, North Carolina and Missouri.
Missouri’s pilot program, according to the Kansas City Star, is currently a feasibility study, where several options are being explored for repairing Interstate 70, including a public toll and handing toll duties to a private company that will also maintain the highway. The road needs $2 billion to $4 billion in repairs.
States have tried in the past! Pennsylvania, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, had asked to be allowed to add road tolls on federal highways two years ago, but was turned down flat. Whether Congress will authorize it remains to be seen.
No one relishes taxes, but the reality is that if the public wants public roads, greater use means greater costs of maintenance. Some toll road fees are even being used to fund repairs to other roads. According to KRTK, an ABC affiliate in Houston, Texas, a number of toll roads in the Houston area were supposed to have gone toll-free by the time construction costs had been paid for, but still exact tolls. Aside from being a consistent revenue stream, the tolls are funding construction on non-toll roads.
New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, according to USA Today, is being derided for charging more in tolls for out-of-town motorists, which other states using the E-ZPASS system are doing as well. E-ZPASS is an electronic toll billing system, which charges the account of a car equipped with an E-ZPASS card, which an antenna reads as a car drives through a tollbooth. These tolls booths are charging more to out-of-town E-ZPASS cards. When New York’s MTA enacted an “out-of-towner tax,” the MTA had a $900 million deficit.
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: http://triblive.com/news/1875751-74/interstate-transportation-highway-tolls-pennsylvania-state-federal-money-needs-roads
USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/money/autos/story/2012-05-24/toll-roads/55192642/1