Tolls + Technology = Inefficiency

July 30th, 2013

Tolls are finally becoming “interoperable,” according to representatives of the so-called “tolling industry,” the folks  who used to nickel and dime drivers but today extract much larger sums.  What this means, once the system is up and running, is that drivers can travel on toll roads in various states and most of the time, receive a bill for their tolls.

A representative of the industry stated in a press release touting the development: “This is an important development on the path to nationwide interoperability . . . that could help knit together regions of tolling interoperability . . . and make traveling easier for motorists.”

While it sounds like a technological breakthrough, it is anything but that.

Taking photos of drivers’ license plates, identifying the type of transponder (or lack thereof), hunting them down in various state data bases, and then billing them, seems in this day and age to be inefficient and labor intensive.  And the rates of toll evasion are high.

There is a much more effective system in the marketplace, one that is highly efficient and virtually evasion free.  Even better, instead of tracking down thousands of motorists each day, the system relies on about 1,500 taxpayers nationwide to equitably tax virtually every driver in the U.S.

When transportation fuels are transferred in bulk at the wholesale level, the fuels are taxed at a per-gallon rate. Those taxes are electronically remitted to the Internal Revenue Service. It’s a tried-and-true method of tax collection that transfers billions of dollars annually to the highway trust fund. It’s called the fuel tax.  So long before a driver fills up his vehicle and ventures down the road, the taxes have already been paid.

It’s not a perfect system, though it’s close to perfect in simplicity. And  the flaws are easily rectified with a very simple change:  a rate adjustment. The taxes were set 20 years ago and haven’t changed.  Miles-traveled is on the decline, and with vehicles getting superior mileage, the rates most definitely should be changed. But for efficiency and effectiveness it can’t be beat.

The answer to our funding shortfalls for infrastructure can be easily fixed by adjusting the fuel tax, with “interoperability” already built in.

olls are finally becoming “interoperable,” according to representatives of the so-called “tolling industry,” the folks  who used to nickel and dime drivers but today extract much larger sums.  What this means, once the system is up and running, is that drivers can travel on toll roads in various states and most of the time, receive a bill for their tolls.

A representative of the industry stated in a press release touting the development: “This is an important development on the path to nationwide interoperability . . . that could help knit together regions of tolling interoperability . . . and make traveling easier for motorists.”

While it sounds like a technological breakthrough, it is anything but that.

Taking photos of drivers’ license plates, identifying the type of transponder (or lack thereof), hunting them down in various state data bases, and then billing them, seems in this day and age to be inefficient and labor intensive.  And the rates of toll evasion are high.

There is a much more effective system in the marketplace, one that is highly efficient and virtually evasion free.  Even better, instead of tracking down thousands of motorists each day, the system relies on about 1,500 taxpayers nationwide to equitably tax virtually every driver in the U.S.

When transportation fuels are transferred in bulk at the wholesale level, the fuels are taxed at a per-gallon rate. Those taxes are electronically remitted to the Internal Revenue Service. It’s a tried-and-true method of tax collection that transfers billions of dollars annually to the highway trust fund. It’s called the fuel tax.  So long before a driver fills up his vehicle and ventures down the road, the taxes have already been paid.

It’s not a perfect system, though it’s close to perfect in simplicity. And  the flaws are easily rectified with a very simple change:  a rate adjustment. The taxes were set 20 years ago and haven’t changed.  Miles-traveled is on the decline, and with vehicles getting superior mileage, the rates most definitely should be changed. But for efficiency and effectiveness it can’t be beat.

The answer to our funding shortfalls for infrastructure can be easily fixed by adjusting the fuel tax, with “interoperability” already built in.

- See more at: http://www.natso.com/blog/posts/view/233#sthash.TCdRfzef.dpuf

Washington State Seeks to Toll I-90; Lawmaker Questions Legality

July 15th, 2013

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is seeking to toll Interstate 90 under the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Value Pricing Pilot Program, which allows the tolling of existing interstates for projects testing innovative ways to alleviate congestion. But already Congressman Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) is questioning the authority of the federal government to authorize such a plan.

In a letter to incoming Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Anthony Foxx, Rep. Reichert raised concerns about the potential impacts that tolling I-90 would have on commerce as well as its potential to set an influential precedent for states nationwide seeking funds for transportation projects. Furthermore, Rep. Reichert questioned whether tolling I-90 would be a misuse of the pilot program’s authority because WSDOT’s primary purpose for tolling I-90 is to pay for a state highway bridge, rather than to mitigate congestion.

Tolling existing lanes on interstates is prohibited by federal law, except under tolling pilot programs created by Congress.

N.C. Governor Signs Legislation Restricting State’s Ability to Toll I-95

July 2nd, 2013

In a victory for the No Tolls I-95 Coalition, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory last week signed the Strategic Mobility Formula (H.B. 817) into law, which will change the way the state prioritizes road funding projects and limit the state’s ability to impose tolls.

Under the legislation, the Turnpike Authority may designate one or more lanes of a highway as high-occupancy toll lanes or “other managed lanes” provided they do not reduce the number of existing general purpose lanes. In addition, tolling projects must be approved by all affected Metropolitan Planning Organizations and Rural Transportation Planning Organizations.

The N.C. DOT has been seeking to toll I-95 under a federal pilot program. To date, more than 5,500 individuals have signed an online petition to oppose the tolls, and 20 local governments have passed resolutions against the plan.

The Strategic Mobility Formula also replaces the state’s current Equity Formula, and implements a tiered approach to funding transportation improvements. Forty percent of funds will be spent at the statewide level, or $6 billion. Another 30 percent, or $4.5 billion, is directed to the the regional level and 30 percent, $4.5 billion, goes to the division level over the next 10 years.

N.C. Governor Should Withdraw Tolling Application

June 11th, 2013

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory should direct the state Department of Transportation to withdraw its application to toll Interstate 95 under a federal pilot program and put the tolling idea permanently to rest, Scott Aman, president and CEO of New Dixie Oil Corp., said in a recent op-ed in the “Fayetteville Observer,” published June 5.  Aman also serves on the board of the No Tolls I-95 Coalition.

As the letter points out, although the N.C. House has passed legislation that requires NCDOT to provide the same number of toll-free general purpose lanes that existed prior to any implementation of tolls, the governor doesn’t need to rely on the General Assembly to stop the tolling initiative. Gov. McCrory has the authority to direct the DOT to simply withdraw its participation from the federal pilot program.

“Gov. McCrory could make good on his campaign promise today if he wanted to, and relieve the concerns of all North Carolinians who recognize the pitfalls of tolls on this important interstate,” Aman wrote. “At a time when the governor has made promoting business, jobs and tourism priorities of his administration, establishing tolling facilities on I-95 would counter all of his efforts. North Carolina should be raising the welcome sign to businesses and tourists, not raising a stop sign that sends the message that North Carolina is closed for business and visitors.”

We couldn’t have said it better.

To date, more than 5,500 individuals have signed an online petition to oppose the tolls, and 20 local governments have passed resolutions against the plan.

N.C. House Unanimously Passes Anti-Tolling Legislation

May 29th, 2013

The North Carolina House of Representatives unanimously passed House Bill 267 to limit the state Department of Transportation’s ability to impose tolls on existing interstates, including Interstate-95. The vote came just days after the state’s Department of Transportation issued the results of its long-awaited North Carolina I-95 Economic Assessment Study.

The House vote marks a significant step in the “No Tolls I-95 Coalition’s” efforts to prevent the North Carolina DOT from tolling I-95 under the federal tolling pilot program. The legislation would not allow tolling of the existing lanes, but would allow for the construction of tolled “express lanes.”

Meanwhile, NC-DOT has been presenting the results of its economic study in a series of listening sessions. The study evaluated several scenarios for generating infrastructure funds, including mitigated tolling, which would  implement tolls, but offer a 50 percent reduction to local residents and businesses.

No Tolls I-95 Coalition” Chairman and Kenly 95 Petro general manager Ernie Brame, along with dozens of municipalities, chambers of commerce and tourism boards, continue to criticize the tolling plan. In the Fayetteville Observer Brame said, “This is not right for I-95. Why should I-95 residents get charged for what other residents are getting for their gas tax? The DOT has ignored this road in favor of other projects,” Brame said, “and now they get to I-95 and say they have no money.”

Editorial Mischaracterizes Public’s Desire for Tolling

March 27th, 2013

A recent editorial in The Huffington Post mischaracterized the public’s desire for tolling and called on Congress to take a more permissive approach to highway tolling.

Pro-tolling advocacy group, the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (IBTTA) claimed that from California to Massachusetts, states are embracing tolling systems and  suggested that Congress should give its blessing to a trend that has already taken root across the country.  But the article fails to mention that states already have the ability to impose tolls on new roads. Tolling existing lanes on interstates is prohibited by federal law, except under a tolling pilot program created by Congress in 1998, which allows interstate tolling tolling in three states under limited conditions.  Yet, in almost 15 years since the program was created, no state has implemented tolling due to overwhelming public opposition, among other reasons.

States Weigh Sales, Fuel Tax Hikes

March 26th, 2013

The number of states seeking to generate transportation revenues by increasing sales taxes or state motor fuel taxes is growing, with lawmakers in Missouri and Washington marking the latest to introduce such legislation.

In Missouri, Senators last week endorsed a proposed penny sales tax increase that could raise nearly $8 billion over a decade for transportation projects. The increase would require voter approval and, if passed, would be resubmitted to the ballot after 10 years so Missourians could decide whether to continue it. Sen. Mike Kehoe said the gas tax would need to rise 20 to 25 cents to generate equivalent revenue.

The sales tax proposal was given first-round approval and needs another affirmative vote before moving to the House. A House committee has embraced a similar measure. Under the Senate measure, 10 percent of the revenue would go to cities and counties. When the sales tax is in effect, voter approval would be needed to change the gasoline tax rate or place tolls on existing roads and bridges.

In Washington, a 10-cent increase in the state’s fuel tax over five years is part of a $9.8 billion transportation funding package introduced in the legislature. The funding plan would raise the 37.5 cent tax on diesel and gasoline by 2 cents in each of the next five years.

In New Hampshire, a legislative committee was asked to consider recommending a smaller tax hike — or no hike at all — on gasoline and diesel fuel than the 15-cent increase proposed under a bill to raise revenues to finish an Interstate 93 expansion and for other highway improvements.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. David Campbell of Nashua, would raise the tax from 18 cents a gallon to 33 cents a gallon. The tax has not been changed for 22 years. Under the bill, the increase would be phased in over four years on gasoline and six on diesel. The House Ways and Means Committee held a hearing on the bill last week, and is expected to vote on the tax proposal on Tuesday, with the full House votes on the measure later this month.

Wyoming was the first state this year to raise its fuel tax, raising its tax to 24 cents per gallon from 14 cents on Feb. 15. It was the first increase in the state’s gasoline tax in 15 years.

Governors in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Vermont also recently have proposed raising fuel taxes.

North Carolina, Virginia Continue Heated Debate on Tolling

October 29th, 2012

 

During North Carolina’s third and final Gubernatorial debate last week, former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory and Lieutenant Governor Walter Dalton were asked to expound on alternative funding methods for improving Interstate 95 after each had expressed opposition to tolling. Lt. Gov. Dalton reiterated that he would focus on public-private partnerships as well as gathering a larger share of federal highway dollars. McCrory, meanwhile, said he would seek to reform the federal formula used to allocate highway funds to ensure that North Carolina receives its share of federal money.
 
In Virginia, the pressure by businesses and residents along the I-95 corridor has some questioning if Gov. Bob McDonnell is beginning to rethink his I-95 tolling plan. During his “Ask the Governor” radio show in Richmond last week, Gov. McDonnell said he knows a toll would create a hardship for people living in the area, and maintained that a toll isn’t a done deal yet. This marks a shift from Gov. McDonnell’s long-standing position that tolls are the only solution to the state’s need for transportation revenues. While Gov. McDonnell said he is considering several options, he added that tolling, in his opinion, is the best one on the table right now.

WTVR, CBS 6 in Richmond is asking readers to weigh in on whether they support tolls on I-95 with an online poll. The Partnership to Save Highway Communities is encouraging members to vote ‘NO’ to the poll.
 

Court of Public Opinion Rejects Tolls on I-95

October 12th, 2012

The war against tolls on I-95 in Virginia and North Carolina is going to be won in the court of public opinion. And it’s increasingly clear that anti-tolling sentiment in both states is growing stronger by the day.

Virginia business leaders this week put up a series of billboards touting tolls as highway robbery. The effort, aimed at grabbing the attention of Gov. Bob McDonnell as well as the public, is funded by businesses that say toll booths on I-95 in Sussex County will stunt their economic growth.

In the neighboring state of North Carolina, the Winston-Salem Journal sharply criticized the tolling plan, writing in an editorial that the N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT) is about to waste $1.6 million assessing the economic impact of tolls on the interstate.

“DOT said it wanted to get a better idea of how tolls would impact business. We can save the state right here with the obvious answer: Tolls would hurt,” editors wrote in the Oct. 8 opinion. “DOT should save the $1.6 million and drop this whole notion of toll roads, too.”

N.C. gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory came out against the DOT tolling plan during a luncheon with Roanoke Valley residents saying that I-95 is a federal responsibility that shouldn’t be maintained through local tolls.

N.C. state Rep. Elmer Floyd, as well as the Harnett County Board of Commissioners, also added their names to the list of  more than 35 groups, including counties and towns, chambers of commerce and school boards, opposed to the tolling plan.

What’s more, nearly 4,500 N.C. residents have now signed a petition against the plan.

Ernie Brame, the new chairman of the No Tolls on I-95 Coalition, summed it up best this week in the Wilson Times  when he said, “I have to fight for this road because the DOT is fighting against it.”

The public’s verdict is in: Virginia and North Carolina residents and businesses don’t want tolls.

The government should put tolls aside and move on to its next order of business.

Politicians Speak Out Against Va. I-95 Tolling Plan

September 19th, 2012

Va. Governor Bob McDonnell may be full steam ahead on his plan to toll Interstate 95 at the North Carolina border as a way to raise money for infrastructure projects. But at least two of his fellow Republicans are putting on the brakes.

U.S. Senate Candidate George Allen recently announced his opposition to the plan, saying “Southern Virginia already faces significant economic challenges and these tolls could disadvantage job-creating businesses in the region, and the hardworking Virginia families already suffering from skyrocketing fuel costs.”

Just days later, Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) fired off his third letter to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) asking the agency to deny the Virginia Department of Transportation’s (VDOT) proposal to install a toll on I-95 in Sussex County.

Rep. Forbes emphasized his continued opposition to VDOT’s application, which was filed Aug. 24, saying “it has been made clear that the interests and concerns of Southside Virginians have not been adequately addressed.”

The cacophony of voices opposing the I-95 tolling plan is growing louder by the day.  To date, 20 local governments, eight trade associations, 16 businesses, and thousands of Va. residents have opposed the plan.

We’re glad to see politicians adding their name to the list of those taking a stand against Gov. McDonnell’s plan to toll I-95.  We hope more will do the same.