Tolling U.S. Highways and Bridges

The Federal-Aid Road Act of 1916 (39 Stat. 355), which provided federal funds to states for highway construction, included the requirement that all roads funded under the act be “free from tolls of all kinds.” Following the funding of the Interstate System in 1956, the “freedom from tolls” policy was reaffirmed (23 U.S.C. §301). Although the provision still exists, exceptions to the general ban on tolls now cover the vast majority of federal-aid roads and bridges. New roads, bridges, and tunnels may be tolled, and most existing roads, bridges, and tunnels may be tolled if they are reconstructed or replaced. Yet growth in the extent of toll facilities has been slow, and some new toll projects have struggled financially. The failure, beginning in 2008, of federal highway user taxes and fees to provide sufficient revenues to fund the surface transportation program authorized by Congress has renewed interest in expanding toll financing. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that annual highway revenues, mostly from motor fuels taxes, will fall an average of $20 billion short of the amount needed to sustain the current federal surface transportation program between FY2021 and FY2025, and some Members of Congress see an expansion of tolling as a way to reduce the need for federal expenditures on roads. Congress could achieve an expansion of tolling in several ways. At one extreme, it could simply encourage tolling pilot projects on Interstate System highways, of which relatively few have been implemented to date. At the other extreme, Congress might authorize states to toll federal-aid highways as they see fit, or even require that Interstate highway segments be converted to toll roads as they undergo reconstruction, eventually turning all Interstates into toll roads. One obstacle to increased use of tolling is that tolls are a relatively inefficient way of raising revenue. The costs of toll collection on many existing toll roads exceed 10% of revenues even if all tolls are collected electronically, not including the cost of toll collection infrastructure. This compares unfavorably to the cost of collecting the existing federal motor fuels tax, estimated to be less than 1% of revenues. In addition, many roads may not have sufficient traffic willing to pay a high enough toll to fully cover financing, construction, maintenance, and toll collection costs. Due to these factors, as well as their political unpopularity, tolls are likely to play a limited role in funding surface transportation projects in the near future. Beyond a requirement that toll rates on bridges “shall be just and reasonable” and a provision limiting tolls on over-the-road buses, current federal law provides no role for the federal government in regulating toll rates or practices. States do not need to ask for permission from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) prior to imposing tolls but must be careful to adhere to the legal requirements, especially in regard to the use of revenues. However, there have been controversies in a number of states over toll schedules that favor in-state residents over others; over attempts to collect tolls at state borders, where more nonresidents would be affected, rather than at internal locations; and over trucking industry complaints that truck tolls are excessive compared to auto tolls. If tolling becomes more widespread, the extent to which tolling should be subject to federal oversight may become a more prominent question.

Language

  • English

Media Info

  • Media Type: Digital/other
  • Features: Tables;
  • Pagination: 22p

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01722471
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Report/Paper Numbers: R44910
  • Files: TRIS
  • Created Date: Nov 15 2019 11:35AM