Governments need to pay for things, and when traditional sources of revenue decline, other sources are found. To deal with the urgent needs of the highway infrastructure system and, if possible, add capacity, states need a lot more money than they currently have. Unable to get more from Congress, since Congress remains opposed to raising the gas tax, states are asking for the right to skip the gas-pump middleman and go straight to your wallet in the form of toll roads.

Beyond the recession, the reasons for busted highway and infrastructure budgets are manifold, from people driving less – and so less collected in gas taxes, to more fuel efficient cars – requiring less gas and so again, less in gas taxes, to roads and bridges that cost more to construct. A Congressional commission wrote that the U.S. needs to spend $137 billion more every single year to keep up with infrastructure needs; meanwhile less money is flowing to coffers and the federal highway fund is expected to be run down to zero in 2013.

Federal laws prohibit all but 15 states from collecting tolls on highways that receive federal funds, so states want Congress to change that provision. Trials have begun in three other states to test out tolls, including one that raises the toll until the toll lanes are sufficiently cleared, in order to keep the paying lanes from becoming congested as is known to happen regularly in some systems. But getting nationwide approval is a long way off. Oversight of a greatly expanded tolling industry would need to be sorted; the federal government already has questions about how state's latitude in spending toll revenue – for the specific toll road or general transportation needs, for instance – and where tolls might be placed, since "states also have a history of slapping tolls on roads traveled by a large share of out-of-state motorists."

On the other side, tolling agencies operate in more mysterious circumstances than many are comfortable with. Private companies and public-private partnerships aren't bound by the disclosure requirements of pure government agencies, which can lead to seemingly capricious toll hikes, huge sums of money going where it isn't meant and after-the-fact finger pointing that doesn't help toll-paying motorists. Not that any of that will change what's ultimately coming: it costs more to ply the nation's roads, and there's no doubt we're going to more pay for it. Somehow.


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  • 96 Comments
      RustyShackelford
      • 2 Years Ago
      "On the other side, tolling agencies operate in more mysterious circumstances than many are comfortable with. Private companies and public-private partnerships aren't bound by the disclosure requirements of pure government agencies, which can lead to seemingly capricious toll hikes, huge sums of money going where it isn't meant and after-the-fact finger pointing that doesn't help toll-paying motorists." Not only that, but as Slicky Ricky Perry's debaucle over the Texas Trans Corridor shows, they don't even have to be USAmerican-owned companies. He got in pretty hot water in Texas when it came to light that the corridor would be run by a company from Spain. Just remember NY I-90, folks. No matter what the politicians promise about sunsetting tolls, it never, ever happens. Once in, never out.
        Glynn Hadskey
        • 2 Years Ago
        @RustyShackelford
        Totally right. the tax payers build a road, then a politicial sells the right to collect tolls to a private company for the next unpteen years for a lump sum, all to cover a one time short fall.
          Toneron
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Glynn Hadskey
          Private company? Do your research otherwise you spout ignorance.
        • 2 Years Ago
        @RustyShackelford
        [blocked]
      Brian
      • 2 Years Ago
      Tolls are not the answer, just slap a $0.10 state tax on gas and states will have a less wasteful method to collect money from folks who use the roads. Toll boths are a wasteful quagmire waiting to happen.
      artso06
      • 2 Years Ago
      So we fix the the lack of the ability to say no to none important funding, by charging in efficient taxes through tolls on our already crowded highway. Erks me to no end...This is a car site, so I don't want to deal with politics but the inability to budget money in this country is mind boggling.
      Fredgineer
      • 2 Years Ago
      What needs to happen is that money meant for the highway fund needs to stop being funneled away for pet projects, and the highway fund needs to stop being used as a magic cash box to meet budget needs elsewhere. This is why I am opposed to raising fuel taxes, or property taxes because money meant to go to highways will simply get skimmed off and sent to other more politically beneficial projects.
        j0nny5
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Fredgineer
        You know, I agree that if fish and sea and prioritization are probably the most important things we need to reshift focus to. That said, I grow weary of hearing about all of these "pet projects" and all of this "porkbarrel spending" without any sources, references, or any descriptions to back it up. I think half of this country has been brainwashed into believing that any penny that is not under their direct control is somehow automatically tied to wasteful spending. Now, I worked a few government contracts (I'm in IT), and I know that there is waste and excess, as there is in any private company, but I think the conservative strategy is to label anything that is disagreed with socially or on principle as "wasteful spending", regardless of how beneficial it is for people on the whole, in order to rally the troops around dismantling it. You can't advocate for privatization and still take government funding; if you truly believe in the free market, private enterprise, and zero redistribution, then start a company, build a road with it, and charge people to drive on it. Oh, it isn't profitable? You say you're losing too much money on maintenance? Well, welcome to the problem at hand.
      Drakkon
      • 2 Years Ago
      I would honestly rather pay a higher fuel tax that goes through state committees with elected officials than a new spat of public-pillage partnerships.
      Rr778
      • 2 Years Ago
      Only politicals can see how less wear on a road means it needs more tax dollars to repair it.
      icerabbit
      • 2 Years Ago
      I hate toll booths on interstate highways in New England. They're everywhere without alternative to travel a long distance. I can support a toll bridge or tunnel that is a real time-saver, but not on interstate highways. Toll booths become a perpetual tax; without any direct impact on improving the road you are driving on. In New England there are more toll booths on I95 and others than I care to count and the roads are horrible. Traffic is always slow to jammed at the toll booths. I really doubt tolls that millions of people pay get properly applied to road maintenance and upgrades, when some stretches have never been improved in 12 years that I've traveled on them. But they have more and update toll booths! The overhead wasted on the whole toll authority, 24/7 staff (allowed to openly watch TV in their booth where I live !!!) and infrastructure is just way too high. Every nn miles and every state you stop to pay. Oh and you are towing a small utility trailer or boat? In some cases instead of an extra 50% for an extra axle, you owe double or even triple all of a sudden (iirc Maryland) We had a scandal here where the director of the toll authority was essentially stealing for years (lavish trips abroad, personal use gift cards, ...). His salary was triple that of the average doctor; he wasn't even fired, insurance paid his fines and restitution (>hundred thousand) and he kept his fat state retirement check based on his huge inflated salary . Absolutely ridiculous. Anyhow, I'd much rather pay a bit extra for gas and be done with all toll booths. Or better, see the tax that we already pay for gas exclusively applied for road maintenance and upgrades.
      MyerShift
      • 2 Years Ago
      Boo! Hiss! Driving is expensive enough. These geniuses should manage their finances better!
      CarCrazy24
      • 2 Years Ago
      This is such crap. Just because the state doesn't know how to balance their checkbooks doesn't mean they have to slap the people with even more costs.
      Hampton
      • 2 Years Ago
      Elect Romney because the democrats and the public sector unions are wasting our taxes.
        j0nny5
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Hampton
        "BAAAAA", said the mindless sheep.
        Drakkon
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Hampton
        Exactly, because from 2000-2008, big business acted SOOOOO responsibly!
        Mark Mitchell
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Hampton
        All politicians are crooks they should all take a drop in wages to help pay for this crap. How do you think romney will be any better when he has never been poor never missed a meal unless he wanted to and has never even wondered or cared about anyone who has.
      bobdole2013
      • 2 Years Ago
      This is truly backwards. The gas tax is not "the middleman." It's an excise tax collected from distributors, long before it is sold at the pump. It is as efficient as a tax can get, costing nothing to collect. Tolls, on the other hand, require hiring of a vast army of toll collectors, bureaucrats and electronic equipment to work. It's the very definition of "middleman." Instead of accepting the tax-hiking spin of these liars, how about exploring the truth: stop wasting gas tax money on multi-billion dollar transit boondoggles that nobody uses.
      snap_understeer_ftw
      • 2 Years Ago
      this is why we need to pay higher road tax on gas in the USA ours has been a flat fee as a part of gasoline as opposed to a percentage (Europe does the latter)............Toll roads suck
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