NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Toll Roads Without the Booths

December 12, 2000

A study from the Reason Public Policy Institute suggests the need for new toll roads -- but advises policy makers to use new technologies so as to avoid the need for stopping at toll booths.

There is a growing need for highway investment, but the value of fuel taxes for road construction and maintenance has been shrinking. Either taxes must be raised substantially, the study argues, or more tolls collected to finance highway programs.

The study, "Putting Customers in the Driver's Seat: The Case for Tolls," was authored by transportation expert Peter Samuel.

Here are some of his arguments:

  • Fuel tax collection per mile driven is down from 40 or 50 years ago -- reflecting the impact of inflation and dramatic increases in fuel efficiency.
  • Political opposition to tax hikes makes it clear that toll use will have to expand.
  • An additional $32 billion will be needed to keep highways in line with the growing U.S. population and economy.
  • The federal government should start taking steps as early as the next federal highway reauthorization process toward the goal of eliminating all toll booths -- replacing their money-collection function with new electronic technologies which are customer friendly.

Current procedures double-tax motorists -- once at the conventional toll booth and a second time at the gas pump. Because electronic tolling systems keep detailed records, motorists could be given rebates of fuel taxes paid for all miles driven on toll roads.

Also, variable-rate tolling -- which charges different prices during different traffic conditions -- could help alleviate stop-and-go traffic congestion.

Source: Peter Samuel, "Putting Customers in the Driver's Seat: The Case for Tolls," Policy Study 274, Reason Public Policy Institute, 3415 S. Sepulveda Boulevard, Suite 400, Los Angeles, Calif. 90034; (310) 391-2245.


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