With the House of Representatives already passing its own version of the highway bill that grants states more authority to levy tolls on existing Interstate lanes, the trucking industry and safety groups are likely to face a tough battle to get a similar tolling provision off the Senate version of the bill.

The Senate version that passed last year included language that allowed for “virtually unlimited tolling” on the Interstate highway system, including existing lanes, Darrin Roth, director of highway operations for the American Trucking Assns. (ATA), told Fleet Owner.

However, the committee on Environment & Public Works, the Senate panel that has jurisdiction over tolling, may be one possible avenue for fighting tolls on existing lanes, Roth said. The committee is slated to mark up the highway bill next Wednesday.

The Senate bill is expected to be voted on by mid-April, after which members from the House and Senate will negotiate a version that will become law. Congress is aiming to complete the final bill before May 31, when the extension of the currently effective highway bill expires.

“[Tolls would have to be addressed] either through a standalone amendment or a manager’s amendment,” said Roth, noting that a Congressman could back such a measure or the chairman of the committee could potentially rewrite major portions of the bill.

An amendment sponsored by Rep. Mark Kennedy (R-MN) to prevent tolls on existing Interstate lanes-- but which would have allowed tolls on new projects-- was defeated in the House last Wednesday, marking a setback for the American Trucking Assns. (ATA).

“Obviously we’re disappointed that the House didn’t adopt the Kennedy-Smith amendment,” Roth said. “There may have been an impression [among the House] that the amendment would’ve curtailed their ability to pursue their tolling projects. In the vast majority of cases that wouldn’t have been true. It would’ve even given them more flexibility in cases with new lanes.”

Another concern that ATA has with the Congressional allowance for more tolling is that revenues so gained are likely to be diverted to non-highway projects. “A lot of resources are going to transit projects that do not improve the safety and efficiency of the highway system. This is supposed to be a user-fee system,” stated Roth.

In fact, implementing tolls on Interstate lanes may divert traffic onto secondary and local roads— routes that are at least four times more dangerous, ATA said.

“A good example is the Ohio Turnpike,” said Roth. “They increased tolls by 82% eight years ago and a lot of trucks shifted onto secondary roads. There have since been a lot of measures on bypasses to the toll system from local systems. This year they lowered toll rates on trucks by 25% and they are now coming back to the Interstate.”

The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, an association of truck safety enforcement officials, along with AAA, the National Bus Assn., the National Motorist Assn. and others also support the trucking industry’s position on Interstate tolls.