The U.S. Tolling Coalition—which consists of highway construction groups in almost a dozen states— has unleashed a national campaign aimed at urging Congress to let the separate states impose tolls to fund “long-overdue highway improvements.” According to the coalition, Congress “should provide maximum flexibility to states to add tolls to any portion of their interstate or federal highways for the purpose of reconstruction and rehabilitation.”

Coalition co-chair Patrick Goss, executive director of the Wisconsin Transportation Builders Assn. stated that “17% of our interstates and one-quarter of our nation’s bridges are structurally deficient. With Congress struggling to find the money to meet basic maintenance needs, allowing more tolling will stretch dollars, jump-start construction projects and create new jobs.”

The coalition pointed out at least one recent precedent for allowing tolling: “Under a pilot program, the U.S. Dept. of Transportation recently allowed Virginia to add tolls along the I-95 corridor in that state to pay for critical rehabilitation and upkeep. Missouri has also been cleared to add tolls. The U.S. Tolling Coalition wants to expand the program nationwide, which requires Congressional authorization.”

Coalition co-chair Don Shubert, president of the Connecticut Construction Industries Assn. added that “What’s good for Virginia and Missouri is good for the rest of America. States are confronting accelerating pavement deterioration due to age and high traffic. As a result, American business is hurting and we need to act now to give states the power to toll.”

But despite the critical need for highway infrastructure construction, tolling is still not the way to go, the American Trucking Assns. (ATA) told Fleet Owner. “ATA opposes the tolling of existing interstates, which have been and should continue to be paid for by using traditional efficiency financing methods,” said the trucking lobby’s spokesperson Sean McNally.

“We do agree with these groups that the state of our roads and bridges demands increases in revenue, but we wish these groups would join ATA and other transportation interest groups in supporting more efficient user fees like the fuel tax,” McNally continued.

“The public doesn’t distinguish between paying fuel taxes and paying tolls; they’re paying all the same,” he added. “But under a toll scheme, between 15 and 20 cents of every dollar is going to enlarge the size of government and be lost in a bloated and inefficient bureaucracy.”

On the other hand, in a letter to the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the House and Senate Transportation Committees, the coalition’s co-chairs Goss and Shubert wrote: "Tolls are gaining public acceptance as motorists see the benefits of electronic collection systems as well as the negative impacts of the lost buying power of fuel tax revenues."

“We also share the frustration these states feel in having to wait for Congress and the Obama administration to come together on a well-funded, long-term highway bill,” McNally noted. “But looking to destroy [President] Eisenhower’s legacy of a safe and efficient national transportation network with a series of toll booths is not the way to solve this crisis.”