With a weak economy and many transportation projects falling behind schedule, a number of states have tried to raise capital by increasing tolls. This has drawn the ire of both motorists and truckers, who fear yet another rising expense in times of financial difficulty will make it even harder for them to survive.
Perhaps no state’s proposals have been more hotly debated than those of New Jersey, where toll increases for an average truck trip on the New Jersey Turnpike were proposed to increase $2.55 in 2008 and $3.80 in 2012, as well as increases of $0.55 in 2008 and $0.95 in 2012 on the Garden State Parkway. A full-length trip through the Turnpike would increase from the current price of $26.55 to $39.85 later this year and $59.75 in 2012.
After a series of public hearings and a written comment period, officials lowered the toll increase for an average truck trip to an additional $2.55 in 2008 and $3.80 in 2012.
However, the trucking industry is also speaking out against the toll revenue plan as $1.25 billion of the money to be raised would fund a mass transit tunnel between New Jersey and New York, thereby preventing the need for expansion of the Turnpike, according to the New Jersey Turnpike Authority. The New Jersey State Senate Republican Caucus has introduced a resolution to stop the state from diverting the funds.
“The big problem we have there is the diversion,” said Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) director of legislative affairs Mike Joyce in OOIDA’s Land Line magazine. “If they’re taking money to build a rail tunnel, that’s pulling the wool over the eyes of the highway user.”
In Maine, Turnpike Authority officials voted to increase the price of tolls 23% on the Turnpike in February 2009 instead of 2010, noting that year-end toll revenues are projected to drop below the previous year’s total for the first time in the highway’s 61-year history.
“No one likes a toll increase, but we don’t do anyone a favor by allowing Maine’s most important highway and its bridges to deteriorate to a point where safety is compromised and repairs become even more expensive,” said Turnpike executive director Paul Violette. “Our 20-year plan called for a toll increase in 2010, but the perfect storm of skyrocketing construction costs, declining toll revenues and collapse of the financial markets may require that we advance it by one year.”
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who recently petitioned the Federal Government for an emergency $7 billion loan to pay for state-funded services, signed into law AB1954, which authorizes the “California Transportation Commission to develop and operate high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes, including administration and operation of a value pricing program” on State Highway Route 15 in Riverside County.
One place where tolls were actually eliminated is on the Coquihalla Highway in British Columbia, which removed all tolls, effective immediately, after the highway was completely paid off.
The first part of the highway opened on May 16, 1986 and was completed in 1990 after a total capital cost of $848 million. British Columbia’s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure said revenues collected from the tolls since its opening will have offset the total capital costs by next month. In 2007, 2.7 million passenger vehicles and 700,000 commercial trucks crossed the corridor.
“Removing the tolls will mean literally hundreds of dollars annually in the pockets of British Columbians who regularly use the highway,” said Premier Gordon Campbell. “It will also mean thousands of dollars in annual saving for truckers who account for 20% of highway traffic along the corridor but pay more than half of the total toll revenue.”