5/2/2014Obama Administration Opens Prospect For Tolls On Every Highway
US Transportation Department proposes spending $302 billion with emphasis on bicycle trails, buses and toll booths.
The US Department of Transportation on Tuesday unveiled its "Grow America" proposal reauthorizing federal transportation funding over the next four years. The $302 billion spending blueprint reflects a major shift in White House priorities, particularly on the issue of tolling.
The president's first pick for transportation secretary, Ray LaHood, spoke enthusiastically in favor of tolls within a few months of being sworn in to office. The administration wasted no time in taking LaHood to the woodshed for getting ahead of the White House on the policy. He was forced to dial back and pursue the policy, but quietly. Now the administration feels it has the flexibility to call openly for toll booths on existing freeways.
Section 1405 of the proposed legislation repeals existing prohibitions on tolling existing interstate highway lanes and provides a blanket authorization for "conversion of one or more lanes on a toll-free highway, bridge or tunnel (including highways, bridges or tunnels on the interstate system) to a toll facility for the purpose of reducing or managing high levels of congestion, subject to the approval of the [transportation] secretary."
The plan spends $4 billion on TIFIA loans which are used to subsidize private toll road projects. A "Fast" grant tolling promotion initiative would be created with $4 billion. Another $5 billion would be used to make permanent the "Tiger" grants program, which was used by the previous administration to encourage tolling and projects wholly unrelated to driving.
"We were proud of the $20 million dollar Tiger grant that allowed Indianapolis to build its eight-mile bicycle and pedestrian Cultural Trail," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said. "Yet, we know there's still a need out there for more bike/ped investment. Yes, PeopleForBikes selected six cities for the Green Lane Project, but more than a hundred cities wanted to take part. The transportation bill we sent includes the resources we need to support additional investments in bike safety and bike infrastructure."
In addition to bicycles and tolls, the administration plan goes further in diverting gasoline tax revenue collected from motorists for use on mass transit projects. The budget for public transportation grows $10.5 billion to $72 billion over four years with $19 billion going to rail.
Under the Obama administration, the Federal Transit Administration's Capital Investment Grant program, which funds bus service and light rail, grew to become one of the largest discretionary grant programs in the federal government.
To become law, both the House and Senate must approve the administration's plan, which is far from guaranteed. Transportation funding frequently becomes political, and members from both parties have opposed the tolling of existing freeway lanes.