I-80 toll rejection illustrates need to fix funding funding issues

The rejection by the Federal Highway Administration (FWHA) of Pennsylvania’s plans to toll I-80 in that state is just the latest example of how flawed our infrastructure funding system is right now.

Pennsylvania wanted to use toll revenue from I-80 to fund transportation-related projects around the state, including mass transit and road repair projects. The problem is that toll revenue from Interstates, by law, must be used for upkeep of that Interstate. Jim Runk, president & CEO of the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Assn., told me the law is pretty clear on that.

But, because Pennsylvania needed that revenue, it submitted the plan three times to FHWA, and each time it was rejected. As a result, the state is facing a transportation budget shortfall of $500 to $600 million for the next fiscal year.

Pennsylvania is but the latest state to try innovative ideas to fix its funding shortfalls. New Hampshire wanted to buy a one-mile portion of I-95 that led to the Spaulding Turnpike in that state. The plan called for that section to be turned into a part of the Spaulding, thereby creating more revenue for the state of New Hampshire.

Gov. John Lynch wanted to use toll revenues from the Spaulding, which were performing well enough that there was a surplus of funds in the account. Because the revenue can only be used for work on the Spaulding and the road was in such good shape, Lynch wanted to use the surplus to buy the stretch of I-95, thereby costing taxpayers nary a dime, but in the end creating a new revenue source.

What these states and others are doing is simply trying to find ways to recoup money that is being lost as people drive less and vehicles become more fuel efficient. The majority of highway funding in this country comes from fuel taxes for gas and diesel. As vehicles become more efficient, and the government is pushing more fuel efficient vehicles, the funding gap is only going to grow.

The reality is it costs basically same to repair a road whether 10,000 vehicles traverse it each day or 1,000 vehicles. If the government doesn’t act now to develop a new funding mechanism for infrastructure costs, this country is going to be in dire straits in just a few years. Relying on gas taxes just won’t cut it anymore.