10/27/2010State Governors Push Tolls
National Governors Association urges Congress not to restrict conversion of interstate freeways into toll roads.
Facing massive budget shortfalls, many of the nation's governors are turning to toll roads as a solution to their short-term spending needs. The National Governors Association last month dispatched a letter to US Senate committee leaders in the hopes of dissuading them from limiting the abilities of states to impose tolls on existing interstate freeways.
"Fiscal pressures, burgeoning capacity needs, and escalating operating and maintenance costs are forcing states to pursue innovative financing options to complement traditional financing tools," Governors Gary R. Herbert (R-Utah) and Bev Perdue (D-North Carolina) wrote on behalf of the NGA's Economic Development and Commerce Committee. "Governors support the development of flexible and innovative financing mechanisms that strengthen the mobility goals of the states. We oppose any federal restrictions on the ability of the states to pursue public-private partnership arrangements to address our unique infrastructure needs."
In particular, the governors are worried about provisions in the draft transportation reauthorization bill that would place mild limits on the current system used to impose new tolling projects. Section 1504 of the draft bill, for example, requires that companies involved in the "public-private partnership" perform a full cost-benefit analysis that takes into account the risks involved. In current practice, toll deals between state officials and tolling companies are struck behind closed doors, with no opportunity for meaningful input or review by the public. The congressional plan would mandate such information -- including proposed toll schedules -- be placed online before the contract is finalized. The most controversial provision that governors traditionally look to conceal from the public, the non-compete clauses, are prohibited. Under these contractual arrangements, states are prohibited from expanding or improving free roads so that congestion forces frustrated motorists onto the pay routes.
"State and local authorities, as the principal owners and operators of the surface transportation system, must retain flexibility to determine the appropriate level of private sector participation in their surface transportation programs," the governors wrote. "Therefore, we urge the Senate to avoid including these House provisions in any Senate draft."
The Department of Transportation under Secretary Ray LaHood has also been using the gas tax dollars of motorists to promote tolling, and the White House has advanced an infrastructure bank proposal specifically designed to fund tolling projects. The combined effort is designed to overcome the initiative of federal lawmakers who have succeeded in enacting prohibitions on the conversion of existing freeways into toll roads.