Federal Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has hinted the Obama administration may be warming to tolling highways as a way to raise revenue for the federal highway trust fund. That trust fund also pays for transit projects.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said a combination of current-level gas tax receipts, road and bridge tolling and President Obama’s proposed infrastructure fund could offer a way to fund a long-term federal infrastructure program without new taxes.

Appearing before a heavily attended conference in Washington, D.C., of the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, LaHood vowed “raising the gas tax is not an option” to increase money available for federal transport spending.

Unfortunately, LaHood still reflects the Obama administration’s view that a gas tax increase is off-the-table. When even the hard-hitting editorialists at USA TODAY, one might wonder how far out-of-touch the administration is on gas taxes.

However, a stronger federal stance on tolling as a source of revenue would be welcome. Tolling represents one of the few ways to actually reduce congestion and ration access to roadways, and would encourage government to invest in transit alternatives.

Hat tip to the excellent Federal Transportation Issues blog that WSDOT runs.

17 Replies to “Feds May be Warming to Tolling”

  1. Uh… good?

    I’ll get excited when the money doesn’t go to build new highways or expand existing ones.

  2. Although I agree that the gas tax really needs to be raised, I can see why the Obama Administration is saying it doesn’t want to. As evidenced by the collapse of the climate bill, the President has totally used up all his political capital with the healthcare and financial reform debates, and won’t have any chance at all of pushing through things that piss off Republicans for quite a while.

    1. We need tolling, but we REALLY need a dedicated trust fund for non-automobile surface transport.

    1. If you’ve been to Europe or Japan, you’d change your mind. Tolling is the EXACT change we need

      1. Electronic tolling has some advantages over increasing the gas tax. When you create Lexus Lanes you tap/tax the rich for something they actually perceive of value. OK, tradesmen will also use it too because time is money but they would have to pay the gas tax, in fact are hard hit by it, but get no net benefit. For them, reduced driving means reduced number of jobs they can go to. Sure they can to some extent pass on the cost but tolling is still a better answer. That said I would support an increased gas tax if it were linked to a “sunny day” fund that buffered the inevitable spikes in oil prices. Remember the nickel holiday idea McCain proposed during the last election. Dumb idea (far from his worst) but if there was an up front tax “earmarked” to kick in a reduction aimed at stabilizing oil prices I think it would be not only politically feasible but a good idea. Nobody except futures traders benefits from the inherent volatility in oil prices.

  3. If the gas-taxes and highway toll revenue is spent on high-speed rail and urban subway/lightrail systems. Then I’m all for it!

    Tax every friggn’ road ’til America has a cobweb of rail and HSR!!!

    1. And after you’ve killed off everyone’s ability to drive and stifled the economy… then how do you pay for your trainset? “cobweb of rail”; that’s an interesting turn of words considering that’s pretty much what our once robust rail system has become. Yet you’d like to promote passenger service (HSR) and stick it to those evil private companies that move more tons of freight than any other country on earth.

      1. Raising the gas tax won’t kill the economy. If you drive 12,000 miles/year in a car that gets 20 mpg, that is 600 gallons. A 50c gas tax increase would cost $300. The 9.5% sales tax on a new $30,000 car, by comparison, is almost $3000.

        Increasing the gas tax would send a price signal that over time will lead to shorter commutes and more fuel-efficient cars.

  4. During the council committee session Monday on the DBT, one of the pro-tunnel councilmembers (Rasmussen, I think) asked Secretary Hammond a question about tolling by entities other than the state or federal. Secretary Hammond said cities have the right to toll their own streets.

    Hmmmm…

  5. I feel that a substantial increase in the gas tax is preferable to widespread tolling, although I am not opposed to tolling added to congested freeways to manage demand. And when I refer to gas tax, that could be expanded to include an energy charge on electric vehicle energy once there is a significant share of electric vehicles, or it could be replaced by a carbon or CO2 tax.

    Here are the primary reasons I prefer the gas tax:
    * It is a form of toll on road use, which is progressive in that it is generally proportional to the size/weight (or energy-efficiency) of the car
    * It is much simpler to collect and doesn’t require government monitoring of all our driving
    * It applies to driving on all roads, not just the designated toll roads. All roads impose costs on society, from maintenance, to water run-off, to making environments less hospitable for pedestrians, and motorists should pay these costs. By tolling just freeways, we will create diversion and congestion on surface streets (which could harm bus transit which primarily operates on surface streets.)
    * It prices in some of the other externalities created by driving which are currently free – such as pollution and greenhouse gas creation, and it creates market price signals that over time will encourage people to commute less (e.g. live closer to work and school) and commute in less energy-intensive ways (transit or less energy-intensive vehicles)
    * All driving creates costs and makes our living environment less attractive, not only freeway driving (which is what I believe will be tolled)

    I don’t understand why at the same time our politicians are willing to discuss tolls but refuse to consider raising the gas tax. A 20c/gallon gas tax on a vehicle getting 20 mpg is the same as 1 cent/mile toll.

    1. I’m not sure about the progressive angle as at least from my personal observation most of the older vehicles are owned by the poor. These days it seems the middle class are moving to more fuel efficient vehicles and the poor are grabbing up their old gas guzzling SUVs.

      Not to say I am against the gas tax, I am very much for trying to get the price of gas closer to the actual cost, just that size/weight might no longer be schewed to the middle and upper classes.

      1. But we should not subsidize overconsumption of gas when a poor mileage SUV or pick-up is driven but its functions and weight are unnecessary. I’m amazed at the number of pick-ups driven around with nothing in them – or Suburbans and Excursions with just the driver. It’s because gas is cheap so it’s not worth getting a more fuel-efficient vehicle.

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