Beyond basic fairness, placing tolls on existing interstates is fiscally imprudent and can jeopardize public safety. Driving up travel costs on existing interstates raises costs for commuters and commercial transportation outfits. Both outcomes can wreak economic havoc on communities. Increased travel costs can strain family budgets and put a damper on routine purchases and travel, hurting stores and restaurants dependent on customer traffic. At the same time, rising freight expenses can take disposable income out of the economy because shoppers are paying higher prices at the register.
Another potential harm is diversion. Tolling existing lanes can divert passenger and commercial traffic onto local roads. Such a change in driver behavior can put more wear and tear on a secondary system less able to accommodate that load. In turn, that creates unanticipated road repair costs for local governments that taxpayers will ultimately shoulder. Diversion-related congestion can also imperil community wellbeing by delaying police, fire and rescue workers as they respond to life-threatening emergencies.
For all these reasons, it is clear that tolling existing interstates is not a viable funding mechanism. That is why Congress has wisely shown no interest in expanded state tolling authority even as it scrambles to generate scarce new road dollars with little to spare. For the sake of the open American road, we encourage Congress to stand fast in this conviction.
Julian Walker is the spokesman for the Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates.