WASHINGTON ― If you like paying tolls, you’re going to love Donald Trump’s infrastructure plan.
The president’s long-awaited $1.5 trillion proposal, which was released Monday, seeks to leverage $200 billion in direct federal spending over the next decade into an additional $1.3 trillion by relying on state and local tax dollars, as well as private investment.
One way to attract private investors to finance infrastructure projects would be to toll roads. Trump’s infrastructure plan would give states more flexibility to toll existing interstate highways ― under the rationale that if you use a road, you ought to pay a price in order to maintain it.
“Tolling restrictions foreclose what might otherwise serve as a major source of revenue for infrastructure investment,” Trump’s plan reads. “Providing states flexibility to toll existing Interstates would generate additional revenues for states to invest in surface transportation infrastructure.”
It’s not a new idea, nor is it a partisan one. Barack Obama’s administration, for example, repeatedly proposed lifting current prohibitions on states placing tolls on existing highway lanes. Proponents of the move argue that it would create new sources of badly-needed revenue, one that could find more support in Congress than an increase in the federal gas tax.
Congress banned tolling on interstate highways in 1956 when it created the national highway system during Dwight D. Eisenhower’s administration. Lawmakers have steadily chipped away at the restrictions since then, and tolls on interstates are now allowed in certain states in priority lanes. The 2015 federal highway bill, which was signed into law by Obama, included a pilot provision that allowed some states to explore further tolling of interstate highways.
Adding fees on existing highways isn’t exactly a popular move, however. A statewide push to privatize highways in Texas suffered a backlash from angry commuters, who complained about exorbitant late fees and costly toll bills. In December, the state’s transportation officials voted against constructing new toll roads after opposition from Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R).
Some Republicans in Congress are also opposed to the idea. Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, has said he prefers increasing the gas tax over adding tolls to highways.
Today, just 2,900 miles of the 46,730-mile federal Interstate Highway System includes toll booths, according to the Department of Transportation.
“Tolls are a wildly inefficient tax, sacrificing money that could go toward construction to corporate profits and administrative costs,” Stephanie Kane, spokeswoman for the Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates, said in a statement. “In addition to the diversion onto secondary roads which causes congestion and public safety issues, tolls will do unimaginable harm to businesses, as shipping and manufacturing prices skyrocket to account for these new costs.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) also panned the idea of expanding the use of tolls on highways across the country.
“The president’s infrastructure proposal would do very little to make our ailing infrastructure better, but would put unsustainable burdens on our local government and lead to Trump tolls all over the country, all while undermining important protections like Buy America,” Schumer said in a statement. “It is a plan to appease his political allies, not to rebuild the country.”