NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

States May Use Tolls To Rebuild Interstates

November 12, 1998

Officials in Arkansas are lobbying to be the first state to place tollbooths on existing federal interstate highways to raise their share of the cost of maintaining the roads. Highway users and taxpayer organizations are concerned they will be "paying twice" for highways, since federal and state gas taxes are already more than enough to build and maintain roads.

Last summer's giant transportation bill contained a provision to allow three states to experiment with interstate tolls; in addition to Arkansas, Florida and Pennsylvania are considering applying. Observers point out that there are already more than 4,700 miles of toll roads in 33 states, which produce roughly $5 billion a year for state and local governments. Robert W. Poole, Jr., of the Reason Foundation, says tolls can help alleviate the highway funding shortage, and under the experiment, tolls can be used only to rebuild major interstates -- not for routine maintenance.

  • In 1996, federal state and local governments collected more than $86 billion in highway revenues from fuel taxes and user fees.
  • Of that amount, $13.4 billion was spent for "nonhighway purposes."
  • Congress increased federal highway spending by an estimated $8 billion per year, but there is a $15 billion annual shortfall between what is now spent and what is needed to keep the highways from deteriorating.
  • And the new money doesn't address the need for new highways in parts of the country where population and driving are increasing five to 10 times as fast as highway building.

Also, Poole points out that with today's greater fuel economy, today's cars go twice as far on a gallon of gas as 25 years ago, whereas the gas tax is charged on a per-gallon basis. Thus as people drive more miles than ever, the income generated is not keeping pace.

Source: Editorial, "Neither Motorists Nor States Need More Annoying Tolls," and Robert W. Poole, Jr. (president, Reason Foundation), "Toll Opponents Are Wrong," both USA Today, November 12, 1998.


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