PA Turnpike Toll Plaza (Wikimedia)

Update @ 5pm: Publicola helpfully reports that this could affect funding for SR-520.

Via the Transport Politic and Streetsblog DC:

After a year spent lobbying states to develop “alternative” revenue sources for replacing the federal government’s rapidly shrinking budget for roads and transit, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood rejected Pennsylvania’s request to implement tolls on I-80, citing a law that prevents such funds from being used for anything but the roads where they’re raised.

This is unfortunate in two ways.  First, quite aside from transit advocacy there’s a pretty strong case that congestion pricing on existing roads would improve the situation for drivers and freight traffic.  By restricting the use of this money you put a cap on how much you can charge this way.

More importantly, transit advocates have been contemplating tolling as the next big source of transit revenue, as there is little appetite for a further increase in the sales tax.  Those interested in finding a way to have an ST3 vote this decade may have to find the cash somewhere else.

The good news is that the law in question is the 1998 transportation bill, so this isn’t some kind of long-standing precedent.

11 Replies to “Feds Spoil Rail Expansion Dreams”

  1. I suspect Sec. LaHood is just buying time for a more comprehensive package of transportation funding mechanisms – which will need broad based congressional support to achieve – rather than let the states start down the path of turning all the nations interstate highways into cash cows for an ad-hoc adgenda of road and transit projects.
    As our nations fleet of autos and trucks wein themselves off a predictible usage of “energy by the gallon” formula, new methods of generating revenue to keep the nations roads and bridges in good repair will undoubtably emerge.
    I see all this a positive step forward.
    Transit can certainly preserve our existing highways, and should be rewarded for doing so.

    1. Well, that would be for the next transportation authorization bill. For the present case, he’s just interpreting current law.

      When I read about this yesterday, I was thinking it probably wouldn’t apply to the case of tolling I-90 in conjunction with tolling of SR-520 even if the proceeds are used for 520. The argument being that joint tolling will give some congestion relief on I-90, as will rebuilding the second lake crossing.

  2. The Greater Seattle Area needs tolls on many of its highways:
    I-90, I-5, I-405, 16, 161, 167, 520, 522, 509, 99-Dtwn, & W-Seattle-Fwy

    …and it would be ideal if the profit made from the highways could go directly towards Seattle’s expansion of light-rail/subway.

    1. I think you mean Puget Sound, right? I wouldn’t limit it to that. It needs to fund both capital expenditures, but also services and not just light-rail, but buses, commuter rail, Amtrak Cascades, and infrastructure for bikes and pedestrians too. Basically, an all approach. Of course, some of this money would also go to completion of some road corridors inevitably and maintenance of these.

    2. I would support this and hope it happens. Having said that, I don’t see the support coming from state wide politicians or the general public. Most people drive and most of them will not like paying for “other peoples” transit with their road tolls. Hope I am wrong on this assessment.

    3. Trying to tax freeways outside of Seattle (16, 167, 161, I-405, etc.) to fund light rail in or to Seattle would die a quick death in the Legislature, and would further polarize the Seattle-vs-Washington attitudes of many Legislators.

      1. It would almost certainly go towards rail expansions in those subareas, which is no problem.

    4. As a West Seattle resident, I would be totally supportive of a toll on our bridge provided we were guaranteed light rail.

  3. I don’t think it would be a problem finding ways to spend the money collected on I-90 on I-90 related projects. Floating bridges are expensive to maintain and the purpose of the tolls wasn’t so much to raise money but to simply prevent an overflow of traffic from 520 when tolls go in place there. Any toll money spent on I-90 is gas tax money that can then be used elsewhere so it’s sort of a shell game anyway.

    1. Any toll money spent on I-90 is gas tax money that can then be used elsewhere so it’s sort of a shell game anyway.

      Just to be clear on an important point — The use of toll revenues is not addressed (i.e. not constrained) by the 18th amendment in Washington state. Only fuel taxes, license fees for motor vehicles and excise taxes (none of which categories include tolls) must be spent on “highway purposes”. With the standard caveats regarding disbursement of any state revenues, the state constraints on how toll revenues in particular are allocated are political, not constitutional.

      Federal (US DOT) policies regarding the introduction of tolling on federal interstate highways and the allocation of that revenue are a separate (and significant) issue for potential tolling of both I-90 and I-5.

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