The Obama administration opened up the possibility Tuesday for states to begin collecting tolls on interstate highways. The opening came in a proposal released by the White House that would possibly avert a coming a funding crisis for the nation’s highway system.
Currently the interstate system is funded by the Highway Trust Fund that relies on the 18.4-cent federal gas tax that has not been raised since 1993. As cars grow increasingly fuel efficient the trust fund has grown short of money according to the Washington Post. To help bolster the funds the White House transportation bill would end a federal prohibition on states collecting tolls on interstate highways.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said he believes “this is an area where the states have to make their own decisions” and that he wants the states to at least “have the option [of tolling] available.”
“We would never tell a state or a local project sponsor to toll," he told Fox News. “But that optionality is increasingly becoming something that states are interested in, and we'll consider finding ways to help when that's an option that states want to consider."
The White House proposal will also rely on a series of corporate tax reforms to help close the funding deficit for the trust fund. Those reforms would account for $150 billion of the $302 billion funding bill over a period of four years.
“The proposal comes at the crucial moment for transportation in the last several years,” Foxx said. “As soon as August, the Highway Trust Fund could run dry. States are already canceling or delaying projects because of the uncertainty.”
Corporate reforms haven’t received a very positive reception, even from Democrats in Congress, but nearly everyone praised the proposal as a step in the right direction.
Terry O’Sullivan, president of the Laborers’ International Union, who recently attacked the president over the Keystone XL pipeline in a Washington Post editorial, said he was glad to see the proposal but said he supported raising the gas tax.
“The gas tax remains the most tested and logical way of meeting our critical investment needs,” O’Sullivan said. “For too long, Congress’s duct-tape approach has made our roads and bridges unsafe, destabilized the construction industry and slowed our economy.”
Foxx agreed, pointing out that the highway fund faces a $63 billion shortfall over the next four years if nothing is done. According to him the administration’s plan would not only stabilize the fund but produce new projects as well.
“We would put that $63 billion back in place to stabilize the highway trust fund, and then the additional $90 billion would be spent on new programs,” he said.