The rejection of Pennsylvania’s request to allow the state to toll I-80 represents exactly the kind of outdated and outmoded thinking the nation cannot afford right now. The U.S. DOT’s decision is based on their interpretation of the law that prohibits dedicating the proceeds of the tolls to anything but the roadway itself which includes paying off debts, potential profits for private investors, and general rehab and upkeep. Therefore, the state’s plan to dedicate a portion of the revenues generated to fixing the state’s roads and bridges, and to address its dire transit needs is a no-go.
The law needs to be changed.
State and metropolitan leaders are in the best position to determine which interstate roadway segments are the strongest candidates for pricing strategies. They are also well-suited to determine how to use revenues generated to maintain a balanced multi-modal transportation system--and to be held accountable for doing so. When it comes to road pricing what we need now is a new 21st century compact that rewards the nation’s state and metropolitan leaders who develop deep and innovative visions to solve the most pressing transportation problems.
While the existing law may mean the die had already been cast, the reauthorization of the federal transportation law (which is months overdue) should be the opportunity to remove the archaic restrictions on tolling the interstate system. Such portions would include those where a range of travel options exist or are planned, and where the most intense peak-hour congestion on expressways is present. A broad range of tolling strategies should be considered--not solely for revenue generation but for congestion and demand management strategies on beltways, downtown spurs and within mega-regions.