If the Obama administration has its way, the nation’s freeways could soon become a bit less ‘free.’
The president sent a four-year, $302 billion transportation plan to Congress on Tuesday, hoping to jump-start a national debate on how to repair and replace the nation’s aging infrastructure while accommodating the needs of a growing population.
One of the suggestions: Charging tolls on the country’s interstate highways.
Action is urgently needed because the federal Highway Trust Fund is expected to run dry by late August, said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.
Unless Congress acts to shore up the fund, transportation aid to states will be held up and workers laid off at construction sites across the country, he said.
Lawmakers in both parties have been reluctant to raise the 18.4 cent a gallon federal gasoline and 24.4 cent diesel taxes, the trust fund’s main source of revenue. The last time they were raised was 1993. Meanwhile, two decades of inflation has driven up the cost of construction, while revenue has lagged because Americans are driving less and cars are more fuel efficient.
‘The only way we’re going to fix this is if everyone puts their ideas on the table and has an honest discussion on how to find common ground,’ Foxx told reporters.
The bill would also encourage states to directly raise more money for transportation projects by loosening restrictions on tolling federal interstates. States are barred from tolling federal interstates now except if the money is used to add lanes or otherwise increase capacity, or if the highways have had tolls dating back to before the federal interstate highway program was launched in 1956. There have also been some limited pilot projects that permit tolling.