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Coalition Prods New Administration, Congress To Avoid Tolling
Elaine Chao takes over as US Transportation Secretary as coalition of business and motoring groups warn against the use of toll funding.

Elaine Chao sworn in by vice presidentElaine L. Chao cruised to confirmation as President Donald J. Trump's transportation secretary on Tuesday. As the former deputy head of the agency, and as a former secretary of Labor, she found little opposition in the Senate, which ratified her with a 93 to 6 vote. Even members of the opposition party praised her ability and sought to work with her on common goals.

"We can all agree that investment in our country's transportation infrastructure means safe bridges, paved roads, completed railways, and expanded airports," Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) said Tuesday. "We can also all support innovative approaches to meeting these needs while guarding public health and environmental protections."

During Senate Transportation Committee confirmation hearing on January 11, however, the extent to which "innovative approaches" will mean converting freeways into toll roads remained unclear. The word "toll" was never used at the proceeding. The Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates (ATFI) does not want to take any chances. The group is working to head off the possibility of a massive tolling expansion by blanketing Congress with an anti-tolling message.

"ATFI applauds the renewed public emphasis on infrastructure funding coming from the Trump Administration and Congress," the alliance wrote in a letter to Congress on Wednesday. "ATFI members have serious reservations about the potential for over-reliance on private investment to fund improvements to our highway infrastructure; such scenarios invariably lead to functional monopolies that subject users to exorbitant, regressive tolling rates."

The alliance is a coalition of groups including the American Trucking Associations, American Farm Bureau Federation, National Motorists Association, Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and White Castle. The member organizations all agree that the gas tax, not tolling, is the most efficient and fair method of funding roads.

"As infrastructure funding legislation is considered this year, the thousands of private citizens and numerous businesses and organizations that make up the Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates urge you to reject tolling existing interstates, discriminatory tolling schemes or policies that effectively balkanize our interstate system," the letter concluded.

Chao will take the lead in implementing the president's infrastructure development plan that was a key campaign promise. At a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing Wednesday, members gave the idea of tolling a chilly reception.

"That's all we have to do," said ranking Democrat Representative Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon). "Just index the gas tax, dedicate the funding and issue thirty-year bonds."

Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania) told The Washington Post in an interview that tolls were a "non-starter."