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Allowing States the Option of Using Tolls Is a Good Idea | Commentary

A provision in the GROW AMERICA Act, introduced to Congress last month by Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, proposes lifting a decades-old ban on tolling existing interstate general purpose lanes.

Recent opposition to the proposal in these pages is shortsighted.

Relying on revenues derived from the gas tax is simply an unsustainable way of funding our nationís aging roads, bridges and tunnels now and for the foreseeable future. With the math not adding up (incoming revenue ? costs of infrastructure maintenance and upgrade), tolls deserve to be part of every transportation policy discussion in Washington, D.C., and in every state house.

States should be allowed to consider all options including the use of tolls on interstates to help cover the funding gap. And hereís why:

First, drivers arenít averse to tolls. Surprised? Me, too.

Like you, Iíve never met anyone who likes to pay a toll, but data suggest a sizable majority of motorists are willing to pay so they can get home, to work or to their kidís soccer practice on time.

A nationwide HNTB Corporation survey of 1,000 drivers last year found that 71 percent would be willing to pay a toll if it resulted in faster, more reliable transport to their destination. The survey also found that 70 percent favored their stateís department of transportation having the option to add tolls to major structures to keep them in good shape (exactly what GROW AMERICA proposes).

Second, traditional gas taxes, unchanged for decades, havenít kept up with inflation and donít have the same purchasing power as they once did. It simply costs more to build or repair a bridge today than it did in 1993, which was the last time the federal government increased the gas tax to the current 18.3 cents a gallon. And though there are more cars on the roads today, they operate more efficiently. Most motorists donít fill up as often.

Fewer fill-ups mean less tax revenue. But more cars and trucks mean increased congestion and faster wear and tear on roads, bridges and tunnels. In this environment, tolls give transportation agencies a tool to address the sustainability and safety of our regionís critical infrastructure by using toll revenue to improve our transportation infrastructure.

Third, the resiliency of our nationís road, tunnel and bridge infrastructure is suffering. A recent analysis of 2013 National Bridge Inventory database maintained by the U.S. Department of Transportation showed that each day, almost a quarter-billion cars, trucks and school buses cross more than 63,000 structurally compromised bridges.

Lastly, technology has evolved far beyond gated lanes and coin machines. Paying tolls electronically, using interoperable systems such as E-ZPass, SunPass or through a pay-by-plate, is safer, more efficient, lowers CO2 emissions and keeps traffic flowing.

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