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Toll plans heat up as Washington funding dries up

As more plans for shoring up the highway trust fund get floated, from raising fuel taxes, to taxing off-shore profits of corporations, to boosting fees on trucks, and even the crazy idea to cut the U.S. Postal Service budget and use that savings to fund infrastructure, the one that remains foremost in most state’s views remains tolls.

As reported by Fleet Owner, just last week, analysis released by Fitch Ratings concluded that increasing federal fuel taxes won’t be enough to solve U.S. transportation infrastructure funding needs. The report noted that a primary approach many may take is tolls.

“Our analysis indicates that, if the federal gas tax had been indexed to inflation when it was last raised in 1993, HTF receipts could have kept pace with HTF outlays,” Fitch said. “We estimate the current rate would be approximately 30 cents per gallon, comparable to what Senators [Chris] Murphy [D-CT] and [Bob] Corker [R-TN] are proposing, versus the current 18.4 cents per gallon.”

As a result, more states are turning to tolls, and some are looking for ways to turn existing toll roads into more efficient operations.

The paper writes:

In North Carolina, the state has hired Cintra Infraestructuras to add toll lanes along I-77. But, the Charlotte Observer reported in its online edition that there is concern that Cintra, which also operates toll roads in Texas and Indiana through public-private partnerships, may not be the right partner for such a project. In both those states, Cintra has had trouble making debt payments on its investment and in Virginia, the Observer reported, a project has been delayed.

North Carolina, though, is confident in the partnership, which will see Cintra invest $655 million in the project to the state’s $88 million.

“We’re confident in their financial qualifications,” said Rodger Rochelle of the N.C. Department of Transportation. “We did a rigorous review before they were announced. We have protections in place. If the project were to fail, it’s Cintra’s failure, not the state’s.”

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In Massachusetts, though, a coming switch to electronic tolls is causing some anxiety among travelers. The state plans to switch to all-electronic toll collecting along the Massachusetts Turnpike in 2016. According to the Boston Globe, the switch will save the state millions, but it also worries some that more travelers will choose local roads, especially as some sections of roads that are not currently tolled will now be tolled.

The paper reports:

“But the biggest impact of electronic tolling could be a rethinking of how and where tolls are collected throughout the state in the future — and not just on the turnpike.

Plans have been in the works to eliminate cash tollbooths on the turnpike, a switch that would require all drivers to pay with an E-ZPass, or pay a bill that arrives in the mail. It’s an effort that officials have said would save millions of dollars in the long run.

In summer 2016, Massachusetts Department of Transportation officials will eliminate the existing rate structure, a complex system that charges drivers based on where they enter and exit the turnpike.

Instead, the highway will be divided into sections, with each section bookended by a toll gantry outfitted with an E-ZPass detector and license plate reader. Each time a driver passes beneath a gantry, a charge of 40 cents will be levied. If the driver passes under four gantries in one journey, the total charge will be $1.60.”

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And in Texas, where they saying is “everything is bigger,” even plans for tolls are. The Dallas Morning News reports that seemingly every road project in the state now includes a plan for tolls. That is especially true in North Texas, which officials say is feeling the pinch due to a shortfall in highway funding.

According to the paper:

“Because of the shortfalls in transportation funding, we have to find very innovative ways to get these projects across the goal line,” said Christie Gotti, a senior program manager for the North Central Texas Council of Governments.

Planning officials with that agency, which steers billions to transportation projects, call it a financial crisis. State Sen. John Carona, who tried unsuccessfully to solve funding woes when he chaired the Senate’s transportation committee, calls it a “political tragedy.”

(Read the full story here:

Regardless of whether the tolls already exist or are new proposals, states are increasingly turning to these money-makers as a way to make up for a shortfall in federal highway funds.


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