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Trump Infrastructure Plan Promotes Tolling


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Transport Topics  /  February 12, 2018

The Trump White House’s highly anticipated infrastructure funding plan released Feb. 12 calls for states to be given flexibility from federal tolling restrictions and to be able to reinvest toll revenues in infrastructure.

The trucking industry, for the most part, has rejected efforts that would lead to new tolls on existing interstates. Lifting or relaxing the federal ban on tolling interstate highways falls under Congress’ jurisdiction.

“Tolling restrictions foreclose what might otherwise serve as a major source of revenue for infrastructure investment,” according to the White House’s 55-page document titled, “Legislative Outline for Rebuilding Infrastructure in America.”

“Providing states flexibility to toll existing interstates would generate additional revenues for states to invest in surface transportation infrastructure. Current requirements that states must reinvest toll revenues in infrastructure would continue to apply,” the plan continued.

Tolling is among the strategies proposed for realizing $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investments over 10 years. The plan also calls for states to have flexibility to commercialize interstate rest areas, as well as eliminating constraints on public, private partnerships for transit projects.

“To be clear, new tolling on existing interstates is a non-starter for our industry. Tolls are ineffective and wasteful, with as much as 33% of revenue being wasted on administrative and overhead costs,” said American Trucking Associations President Chris Spear.

Overall, $200 billion in direct federal funds would be sought to achieve the plan’s desired top line. From that, $100 billion would be made available for an incentives program for states and local agencies, $50 billion would be allocated for rural projects through block grants, $20 billion would be dedicated for a “transformative projects program,” $20 billion would be used to enhance existing federal credit programs and broadening the use of private activity bonds, and $10 billion would back the creation of a Capital Financing Fund.

“The United States has fallen further and further behind other countries,” President Donald Trump said in a statement accompanying the plan. “It is time to give Americans the working, modern infrastructure they deserve.”

Streamlining the permitting process for infrastructure projects is another key piece of the proposal.

A “one agency, one decision” environmental review structure would be established. Also, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) would issue regulations meant to streamline the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process.

“Requiring CEQ to revise its regulations to streamline NEPA would reduce the time and costs associated with the NEPA process and would increase efficiency, predictability and transparency in environmental reviews,” according to the plan.

The plan is meant as guidance for Congress. It is unclear when the Republican-led chambers will legislate on infrastructure. Trump is expected to meet with congressional leaders Feb. 14. The leaders of the Senate Commerce Committee agreed infrastructure funding merits quick attention.

“Through this guidance and letting Congress have the opportunity to write bipartisan legislation, President Trump has offered us direction to meet infrastructure needs in our nation’s states, cities and rural communities,” said committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.). The panel oversees trucking policy. “Aligning federal infrastructure funding with local priorities and looking at other impediments to building would increase accountability and help us meet our most critical infrastructure needs faster.”

“Modernizing our transportation and communication networks is something we all agree the U.S. desperately needs in order to create more jobs and maintain our leadership in the global economy,” added panel ranking Democrat Bill Nelson of Florida.

Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the Transportation panel in the House, stressed the need for having presidential leadership and bipartisan cooperation to finalize a long-term infrastructure funding measure.

Reaction from key stakeholders, meanwhile, has been less than enthusiastic. NATSO, the national association representing America’s truckstops and travel plazas, expressed concern about certain ideas in the plan.

“Interstate tolls cost the government significantly more to administer and enforce than the existing motor fuels tax. Why would anyone fail to support an increase in the fuel tax and, at the same time, work to create another type of tax (such as toll roads) that costs more to collect than the fuel tax?” said NATSO President and CEO Lisa Mullings.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao defended the rationale behind tolling.

“We are not forcing toll roads on anyone. But we should also not discriminate against those entities that would like to have the private sector enter and participate and be a partner in their rebuilding of their infrastructure, as well,” she told reporters shortly after the plan was unveiled. “So, again, we are not pushing for toll roads. We’re also not forbidding toll roads.”

Asked if the administration had ruled out a fuel tax increase to boost infrastructure funding, Chao added, “Nothing is off the table.”

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