In States Embracing More Toll Roads, Freeways May No Longer Be Free

Along Interstate 95 in Stamford, Connecticut

Along Interstate 95 in Stamford, Connecticut Shutterstock

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

Some transportation officials are considering road-funding plans that were once unthinkable.

Transportation officials in Delaware are planning to open a 14-mile tolled highway on Thursday, a project that creates a new mainline route for U.S. 301, a heavily trafficked route often used by drivers and truckers to bypass congestion on Interstate 95 through the Baltimore area.

There won’t be any traditional toll booths along the new highway. All tolls will be collected electronically, with an camera-equipped overhead gantry reading a driver’s EZ-Pass device or scanning the license plate to initiate billing the vehicle’s owner by mail.

As the Delaware News Journal reported Wednesday, for the full 14-mile trip, a two-axle car will be charged $5.60; a six-axle truck will be charged $14.40. The state forecasts that truck tolls will account for 56 percent of toll revenues.

While building a new tolled highway isn’t necessarily a controversial concept—roads don’t pay for themselves, after all, and gas taxes haven’t kept up with state infrastructure needs—there’s a different tolling approach more states are looking at that is far more controversial: Bringing tolls to currently free interstate highways.

While the federal Interstate Highway System does have some tolled sections, those were primarily state-built turnpikes and tollways that predated the creation of the Interstate Highway System in 1956. Federal restrictions kept freeways, well, free of tolls.

On Wednesday, anti-tolling protesters gathered in Hartford for Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont’s inauguration to voice their opposition to proposals to bring tolls to interstate and state highways in the Nutmeg State.

During his campaign for governor, Lamont, a Democrat, said he supported a tolling plan that would only impact trucks. But during his transition, a transportation advisory panel recommended a tolling proposal that also includes passenger cars.  

Patrick Sasser, an anti-tolling protest organizer, told the Stamford Advocate this week: “He told everybody he’ll just toll heavy trucks, but the study that came out after the election said passenger cars need to be tolled as well. I think most people don’t know that. We want to bring attention to it.”

Melissa Kaplan-Macey, who co-chaired the advisory panel, told the Hartford Courant in December: “We recognize that the tolling conversation isn’t easy, but we agree that it is a hard conversation that our state needs to have.”

That conversation is one that continues in Virginia, too.

Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam and state legislative leaders this week announced their support for plan to bring tolls to Interstate 81, a heavily trafficked, crash-prone route used by many truckers heading between Tennessee and the mid-Atlantic through the Shenandoah Valley and southwestern Virginia.

According to the governor’s office, the initial draft legislation would establish an Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Fund supported by toll revenue and establish toll rates, including an option for automobiles and small trucks to purchase an annual pass for I-81 for a fixed yearly fee. Revenue from the I-81 tolls would also only be used for improvements along the corridor as previously identified and adopted by the Commonwealth Transportation Board in December.

According to the Roanoke Times, specific locations for toll-collection gantries have not yet been identified, but the Virginia Department of Transportation has recommended that they be at least 40 miles apart between urban areas along the corridor.

The plan comes after a year-long study of possibly bringing tolls to I-81 to fund improvements and has bipartisan support.

“We have a tremendous opportunity to address longstanding issues on the I-81 Corridor,” State Sen. Mark Obenshain, a Republican from Harrisonburg, said in a statement. “I will continue to work with the Northam administration and with my colleagues in the General Assembly in hope that we can find bipartisan solutions to the critical reliability and safety issues in this region of the Commonwealth.”

But opposition has come from the Virginia Truckers Association and the Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates, the Roanoke Times reported.

Though bringing tolls to currently free interstates has been something that’s been studied and debated for decades, the federal government has been opening the door to the approach in recent years, winning support from the Obama administration and now the Trump administration.

Indiana is also studying the possibility of bringing tolls to its free interstates, including sections of I-70, I-65 and I-94.

North of Indiana is Michigan, which was recently named by a team of Tesla engineers as the state with the worst roads and has a new governor, Gretchen Whitmer, who campaigned on the slogan “fix the damn roads.”

(Shutterstock)

The question as Whitmer’s administration gets situated in Lansing: Can Michigan fund its road-fixing needs without tolling them?

Her predecessor, Republican Rick Snyder, said at a public forum in 2013: "We made a decision a long time ago, back in the Eisenhower days when we did the Interstate system, that we weren't going to do toll roads,"  MLive reported at the time.

A survey released last May by AAA Michigan confirmed the obvious—a vast majority of respondents in the state rated the conditions of roads in the state as fair to poor—and acknowledged the political difficulties of proposing charging users more to use the roads. WXYZ reported at the time: “While most people think there isn't enough money [to fund roads in Michigan], a majority also do not want to pay more in taxes and fees. According to the study, 60 percent of people said they wouldn't be willing to pay more in taxes or fees to support fixing the roads.”

But with state and federal gas tax revenue failing to keep up with the nation’s infrastructure needs, don’t expect the idea to expand tolling—including to interstates that are currently free—to go away anytime soon.

Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Route Fifty and is based in Seattle.

NEXT STORY: Boston Looks to Shore Up Its Harbor Against Flooding in 2019

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.