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It’s A New Day for the Nation’s Infrastructure

By: 
Bill Cramer

Sometimes, just once in a while, a policy announcement shines a light on concept that, if adopted, could fundamentally change our approach maintaining and improving our surface transportation system.

That’s what happened Tuesday, when the White House released a $302-billion, four-year transportation reauthorization proposal, The GROW AMERICA ACT, that includes an end to the 58-year ban on tolling existing Interstate highways.

The measure would “eliminate the prohibition on tolling existing free Interstate highways, subject to the approval of the Secretary, for purposes of reconstruction, thus providing States greater flexibility to use tolling as a revenue source for needed reconstruction activities on all components of their highway systems,” stated the White House release.

The change won’t happen overnight. (Change worth making rarely does.) If Congress includes this provision in the final transportation reauthorization bill, it will pave the way to a solution to a highway funding and financing crisis that has been building for decades.

If the final reauthorization bill includes flexibility to toll existing Interstate capacity, it will position tolling as one of the essential tools in the transportation funding toolbox. And when that happens:

  • Commuters will be able to count on a safer, more reliable ride, as the congestion in major metropolitan areas begins to subside. Highway congestion currently costs Americans $121 billion and 5.5 billion lost hours per year, according to the Texas Transportation Institute.
  • Air quality will improve, with fewer vehicles idling in bumper-to-bumper gridlock.
  • In many metropolitan areas, transit will get a boost, and riders will gain an affordable, accessible mobility option, with express buses receiving access to managed lanes.
  • The economy will improve, thanks to a more efficient transportation system and the tens of thousands of well-paying jobs that are created in construction and maintenance.

Tolling won’t be the right answer for every road in need of reconstruction or repair. But by giving states flexibility to toll existing Interstate highways, the Administration proposal offers a solution to the biggest challenge of all: the estimated $1 trillion that will be needed to refurbish and rebuild an Interstate highway system that was inaugurated in the 1950s, completed in the 1980s, and is definitely showing its age.

The Congressional debate on reauthorization is still unfolding, but this is a glimpse of what a new day could look like. Decades from now, our children and grandchildren may look back to this announcement as the moment we began to solve the transportation infrastructure crisis.


Click here for more on IBTTA’s Moving America Forward campaign. And learn more about tolling and user financing at IBTTA’s 82nd Annual Meeting and Exhibition, September 14-17, 2014 in Austin, Texas.