• Jul 26, 2010
One fact seems indisputable: Americans have come to hate taxes and any suggestion by a politician to raise them is tantamount to political suicide. The problem is that public infrastructure requires funding – and lots of it. Critics of this disparity would argue that a lack of political will to raise fuel taxes has left roads, bridges and tunnels across America crumbling in recent decades.

A new survey conducted by HNTB Corporation suggests that Americans would prefer to pay tolls or let their roads crumble rather than pay higher fuel taxes. While this may well be a valid survey, it's important to note that HNTB is an infrastructure firm that supplies toll collecting equipment, among other things.

In any case, the study's findings note that "when given a choice between new roads funded by an increased gas tax, by new tolls or no new roads at all, Americans prefer tolls (41 percent) or no new roads at all (41 percent) over increased gas taxes (18 percent)." Further, "A strong majority of Americans (84 percent) feel tolls should be considered project-by-project or as a primary source of transportation revenue. Only a small minority (16 percent) say tolls should never be used."

In the old days, toll booths were a pain because every car had to stop and pay. The advent of affordable radio frequency transponder systems like EZ-Pass now allows commuters to drive toll roads and pay automatically without stopping – or even thinking about how much money using such systems costs them. Of course, this type of toll collecting raises other issues including invasion of privacy concerns, since the operators know where specific cars are at certain points in time. There's also the possibility of account hacking or errors where someone could end up charging their driving to other accounts.

What do you think about tolls? Check out the full press release after the jump for more of the study's findings, then drop your fellow readers a line in Comments.

[Source: HNTB Corporation | Image: Wikimedia Commons]
Show full PR text
HNTB's latest America THINKS survey illustrates how tolls can pave the way to much-needed U.S. transportation funding

KANSAS CITY, Mo., July 22 /PRNewswire/ -- Despite a growing awareness that America's aging network of highways, bridges and tunnels is in failing health, huge roadblocks are preventing Congressional action on a new national transportation bill: the lack of adequate funding sources and consensus on a vision that helps plan, prioritize and pay for U.S. infrastructure.

A new America THINKS survey from HNTB Corporation suggests the answer may lie in a modern version of a solution that financed this country's roads and bridges prior to the advent of a national gas tax more than 50 years ago: tolling.

"Decades of underinvestment have left the U.S. transportation system in a losing battle against time, population growth, weather and wear," said Jack Finn, HNTB national director of toll services. "There is no such thing as a free road. Tolling is a proven source of alternative funding, already used in a variety of locations across the country. Its primary appeal - as a user fee - means those who use the road pay for the road."

According to the survey, most Americans support tolls on roads and bridges to generate transportation revenue, especially those that save them drive time. And when it comes to construction, Americans prefer a focus on fixing existing infrastructure than building new facilities.

Change on the horizon

Fuel taxes have been the primary source of transportation revenue at the state and federal level since the inception of the Interstate Highway System. The federal gas tax, now set at 18.4 cents per gallon, was last increased in 1993. A combination of inflation, changing driving habits - due in part to higher gas prices - and better fuel economy in modern automobiles has robbed the tax of much of its purchasing power.

While the Highway Trust Fund is nearly broke - needing infusions from the general treasury totaling more than $15 billion during the last two years - increasing the gas tax has been a political non-starter.

In fact, when given a choice between new roads funded by an increased gas tax, by new tolls or no new roads at all, Americans prefer tolls (41 percent) or no new roads at all (41 percent) over increased gas taxes (18 percent).

"Doing nothing is not an option," Finn said. "Many state and local governments are seriously considering an expansion of tolling, with support across the political spectrum."

Many Americans ready for more tolls

A strong majority of Americans (84 percent) feel tolls should be considered project-by-project or as a primary source of transportation revenue. Only a small minority (16 percent) say tolls should never be used.

"Tolling is about giving people choices, which adds to its appeal," Finn said. "Historically toll roads have been constructed where there also are non-toll alternatives. People decide whether to pay for a congestion-free ride or not."

Asked where they would be willing to spend more money to support long-term transportation improvements in their area, Americans ranked tolling ahead of other options, with nearly four in 10 (39 percent) choosing additional road and bridge tolls versus additional public transportation fees (29 percent), vehicle registration fees (23 percent), sales taxes (20 percent), gas taxes (18 percent), income taxes (11 percent) or property taxes (9 percent).

In addition, nearly half (47 percent) of Americans believe the most important function of a toll facility is to generate transportation revenue, versus reducing congestion (25 percent) or providing a higher level of customer service (13 percent).

Improve what's already out there

Finn said qualitative research among many of HNTB's transportation clients shows a strong appetite for insights into the power of tolling. "Many states without legislation to support tolling have a keen interest in advancing such initiatives and understanding the benefits," he said.

Most Americans would support tolls that fund improvements for either the road on which it's paid (53 percent) or other existing roadways (45 percent) - far fewer (18 percent) would want these toll revenues to be devoted to new construction.

"Throughout the country, there's an overwhelming sentiment that it's important to concentrate on infrastructure that already exists rather than building from scratch," Finn said.

The fairest of them all

As public support builds, tolls might be less about where the money goes and more about benefits to drivers. More than two in three (68 percent) Americans don't really think about tolls without considering convenience - they would be willing to pay a higher toll fare if it saved them time on the road.

Among the different types of tolling, a slight majority (52 percent) think it is acceptable to be charged a toll to use a high-occupancy toll lane, where drivers pay a toll to travel in a congestion-free lane versus adjacent, traditional free lanes. Other options were less popular, with approximately three in 10 (30 percent) accepting tolls to drive on an uncongested roadway or to cross a state border (24 percent).

In fact, HOT lanes are the most popular form of tolling, with about half (51 percent) of Americans believing they are worthwhile - more than road and bridge tolls managed by local or state governments (37 percent), those managed by private companies (21 percent) or even congestion pricing (20 percent).

Experience with HOT lanes also may be a factor, with nearly six in 10 (57 percent) Westerners and 55 percent of Southerners thinking HOT lanes are worthwhile tolls, compared to 47 percent of Midwesterners and 40 percent of Northeasterners. Southern California was the first region to implement the managed lanes concept nearly 15 years ago, and additional facilities are under construction in that state and elsewhere, including Georgia and Virginia.

Current U.S. toll users pleased to pay

Seventy-six percent of Americans who drive on roads and bridges with tolls say they are satisfied with most of the tolling systems they use.

But despite this general satisfaction, 61 percent of drivers admit they have purposely avoided a road or bridge with tolls at least once.

Unfortunately, the reason for such avoidance sometimes comes from some snap judgments about tolls - 43 percent feel that tolls are generally too costly, and another 24 percent view most toll plazas as high-traffic areas.

"Technology now allows us to use video cameras and transponders to conduct transactions at highway speeds," Finn said. "We're generating revenue, reducing congestion and saving time. There's no need to slow down and throw change in a bucket; just keep driving."

And for nearly three in five (57 percent) Americans, the future of tolling would ideally be a combination of cash and electronic collection on local roads and bridges.

About the survey

HNTB's America THINKS survey polled a random nationwide sample of 1,005 Americans between June 25 and July 1, 2010. It was conducted by Kelton Research, which used an e-mail invitation and online survey. Quotas were set to ensure reliable and accurate representation of the total U.S. population ages 18 and over. The margin of error is +/- 3.1 percent.

About HNTB

HNTB Corporation is an employee-owned infrastructure firm serving federal, state, municipal, military and private clients. With nearly a century of service, HNTB has the insight to understand the life cycle of infrastructure and the perspective to solve the most complex technical, financial and operational challenges. Professionals nationwide provide award-winning planning, design, program management and construction management services. For more information, visit www.hntb.com.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 81 Comments
      • 4 Years Ago
      Maybe just pull out of Afghanistan and Iraq. That would save the country billions which could be used to improve the roads and infrastructure.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Tolls are simply for collecting money and fail to modify vehicle purchase behavior. And they are only partially effective on modifying driving behavior.

      Tax gas heavily and watch people shun SUVs and trucks and move into right-sized vehicles for their needs. And watch them reduce the number of trips or start working from home. Gas tax is like a toll that always works and (not just on toll roads) and that is far cheaper to implement (no toll booths, billing system, RFIDs, cameras, workers for manual lanes, and extra pavement).

      Gas tax is the perfect solution for doing what everyone wants - consume less oil.
      • 4 Years Ago
      How about neither?

      Climate Change is a fraudualnt scam, and so is peak oil.

      How does toll roads owned by spanish companies help us?
        • 4 Years Ago
        What a dumbass comment...
      • 4 Years Ago
      More proof that Americans can be stupid in a smart way. Most people would probably rather see tolls because they are not ubiquitous. They figure that they can avoid them (probably by burning more fuel and putting more traffic on secondary roads, in the process.) If tolls were on every road, people would probably change their minds. The problem with tolls is that there is no direct correlation of cost to fuel usage, which is precisely the case with fuel taxes. Tolls do raise revenue for roads, but they don't necessarily discourage the unwanted behavior of consuming fuel.
      Greg King
      • 4 Years Ago
      Last winter after landing at Miami International I got stuck in traffic for 30 minutes. It ends up the traffic was cause by the toll booth. After wasting 30 minutes of my time and 3 dollars worth of gas sitting in traffic, I paid the 25 cent toll. Did I mention the amount of pollutants my idling car put into the air. So lets do the math- I harmed the environment, spent 3 dollars in extra gas, and wasted 30 minutes of my time all so Florida could get 25 cents!
      • 4 Years Ago
      *note* I really don't want driving the backroads to be more expensive than it already is.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Tolls are moronic. All they pay for is the infrastructure to collect them... Sadly, if the poll is true, then most Americans continue to be morons.

      Gas taxes serve a double function:
      1) Pay for the roads & infrastructure.
      2) Reduce American oil needs (wants). Benefits:
      2a) Reduce relevance of the Middle East.
      2b) Reduce the need to drill (& spill).

      Gas taxes, FTW!!!
      • 4 Years Ago
      A fuel tax fixes all roads and is supported by everyone. A toll just takes care of the limited roads they are on and is supported by just those that use them. If we want fair taxation and all roads to be maintained then a fuel tax is the way to go. The real problem lies in that the politicians will try to syphon off the money for non-road projects.
      • 4 Years Ago
      how bout instead of tolls and/or higher taxes, they just reduce the salary level of some of the higher ups?? that combined with better and efficient allocation of tax dollars should help some of the fixes... but would that make too much sense?
        • 4 Years Ago
        I think he meant the higher ups in government.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Level:

        I'm sure the Chinese would be more than happy to take over our government, but I don't think you'd like the results.
        • 4 Years Ago
        "how bout instead of tolls and/or higher taxes, they just reduce the salary level of some of the higher ups??"

        As if the salaries of bureaucrats is the majority of the costs to our roads. You failed grade school math didn't you?
        • 4 Years Ago
        Why don't we outsource the American Government, it is cheaper and pehaps we get better service.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Electronic Tolls can be a nightmare. In Ontario we have a fairly new highway called the 407. The electronic toll system is so messed up that it is not worth using it unless your company is supplying a transponder. I remember we drove on it going to and coming from a place to try it. We got hit with a huge no transponder fee and one half of the trip cost double what the other half cost despite supposedly being in the same time period. My Dad got charged as a Tractor Trailer for pulling a trailer with a Van (eventually reversed). Trying to call their customer service department made cell phone and cable companies look good. Thanks to all of this the 401 (the busiest highway in North America that the 407 was supposed to relieve) remains clogged.

        I would rather pay gas taxes and now what I am paying upfront than deal with Electronic Toll bills.
        • 4 Years Ago
        How about they stop government pork spending? corruption? or subsidizing city employment by having 3 individuals do the work of 1....all they are doing is redistributing wealth...I.E To get into NYC you have a 8 Dollar toll times the number of cars daily..Those tunnels and bridges have been paid for 10 fold but yet they continue to raise the tolls every few years...Tolls were initially put in place to recoup the cost of construction, now they source of revenue...But what else is new the only thing they know how to do it collect and spend all the money they collected....



        • 4 Years Ago
        Middle way is correct, in term of, "They'll just find a way around it anyway. There are a lot of CEOs that have $1 salaries... and massive amounts of 'gifts'.. or 'bonuses'.."

        To get around taxes, you use your companies credit card and such, so the taxes go through the company and from there they do corporate loop holes (which are numerous compare to individual taxes).
        • 4 Years Ago
        Sounds kinda socialist to me.

        They'll just find a way around it anyway. There are a lot of CEOs that have $1 salaries... and massive amounts of 'gifts'.. or 'bonuses'..
        • 4 Years Ago
        It is greedy to single out rich people to pay our country's tab for everything - Raise taxes on EVERYONE since we all use roads.

        Following the lead of London, Milan, Singapore, and Stockholm, they were studying congestion pricing in San Francisco, and would include the following proposal:


        "1.) Charging the fee at the city's major entry points: the Bay Bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the freeways to the south, Highway 101 and Interstate 280); or

        2.) Changing the fee over a closed downtown zone, for those entering the Civic Center, downtown and South of Market. This would be a twin triangle area bounded by Washington, Jones, Turk and Harrison streets and Van Ness Avenue." - Wikipedia

        Tolls would charge around $3.00 USD. The intent in San Francisco is to use the money to fund road projects, decrease traffic congestion, increase uses of its MUNI(public transportation), and decrease the environmental impact caused by all of this. I think any tolling program would probably follow this same outline.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Thats like asking would you rather be shot or stabbed.
        • 4 Years Ago
        this country is seriously in one hell of a bind, and i think its gonna take something truly catastrophic for people to realize we as americans, can't ALWAYS have out cake and eat it too. when it comes to the deficit, people dont want to see entitlement spending cut...but they sure as hell dont want their taxes raise. Mmm....okay.

        Hey, those potholes you hit everyday that sometimes tweak your suspension, or break a rim, or even worse the Minnesota bridge collapse from a couple years ago....would u like to fix all the damaged roads so things like this never happen again? "Of course, we have to." Would you be willing to pay 1 or 2 pennies more per gallon to fix all these problems "i'd rather die". Honestly, if the avg american drives 15k a year, and gets 15mpg in their vehicle. we'd be talking about $10 or $20 dollars a year for everyone that drives to make sure roads are in good shape. I know it would be more of a tax on lower income people since they tend to drive older, less fuel efficient cars, but i'm sure something could be worked out. Sometimes i just had to think that this country is doomed because no one is willing to make the tough decision. We've become such a country of ''pass it on to the next guy''.
        /rant
        • 4 Years Ago
        I hate both.
      • 4 Years Ago
      This is a false choice.
      Tollways should exist for the purpose of creating new roads, not for sustaining current roads.
      and they should persist for no longer than one half generation, 15 years.

      IT should be highly illegal for non-toll roads to become toll-roads.

      There is plenty of money in the highway fund, mismanagement is the problem.
      also the CAFR scam.
      The interest on all the monies already paid should make the roads 'sustainable'
      • 4 Years Ago
      What's with paying taxes on your car every year, isn't that meant to go to maintain the roadways? I'm indifferent on toll booths or higher fuel taxes, they both suck.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Hmmm, that's a tough call. As a commuter (110 miles a day), I'd probably be hit harder with the tolls than taxes. If you don't commute as much, you'll likely be able to avoid the tolled roads. On the other hand, being in LA, I definitely appreciate a well maintained road since the damage done to my wheels/suspension costs me more in the end. I guess I'd do what the polls state; I'd choose a tolled road over no road/a poorly maintained road or higher gas taxes. I wouldn't like it, but I'd suck it up and choose it.
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