By on October 23, 2010

The Federal Highway Administration recently held out $10.5 million to bribe states into turning freeways into toll roads through fiscal 2011. As part of the so-called Value Pricing Program, which Congress introduced in 1991, the agency will take taxes paid by drivers at the pump and underwrite projects designed to charge motorists more for driving on existing roads or increase other fees imposed on drivers.

“These projects show that states are developing new ways of thinking about how to manage congestion,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement on projects selected in August.

Under the program, FHWA will select fifteen project proposals submitted by state departments of transportation and underwrite up to 80 percent of the cost of feasibility studies and implementation reporting. In August’s funding round, for example, the Virginia Department of Transportation and Washington Council of Governments received $320,000 in taxpayer funds for a study of the “advancement of regional pricing in DC including pricing existing facilities.” The Texas Department of Transportation received $2 million to promote a pay-per-mile insurance pilot programs designed to ease the public into acceptance of the concept of pay-per-mile road pricing. Of the total amount of money allocated, $2.6 million is set aside for “non-tolling” projects such as the use of congestion pricing at parking meters, a system that allows local authorities to charge higher rates for car owners during peak times.

Tolling of roads, especially of “existing facilities,” is frequently criticized as creating so-called Lexus Lanes that force poor commuters to drive in traffic while the wealthy can pay for a quicker journey. To address this problem, the FHWA program will support the diversion of even more money from state and federal gas taxes toward complicated rebate systems or mass transit.

“The potential financial effects of value pricing projects on low-income drivers shall be considered,” FHWA’s Federal Register notice explained. “Where such effects are expected to be both negative and significant, possible mitigation measures should be identified, such as providing new or expanded transit service as an integral part of the value pricing project, toll discounts or credits for low-income motorists who do not have viable transit options, or fare or toll credits earned by motorists by use of regular lanes which can be used to pay for tolls on priced lanes. Additional measures include methods to facilitate convenient cash payment by those who do not have bank accounts or credit cards, or who choose not to tie their toll accounts to their bank accounts or credit cards.”

Applications for the federal funding must be received by January 18, 2011.


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22 Comments on “Federal Agency Pushes States to Toll Existing Roads...”

  • avatar

    Actually the selling force for this has been in full force for a few years in Texas.  Being able to ride a specially built HOV lane or lanes along side the existing public highway as is the case in Texas is a revenue generator.  The reason given is so state government doesn’t have fork over their share of the highway costs to get Federal matching funds.
    Yep, low income motorists avoid these roads and the those who contribute large politcal donations to the governor get to run them.

  • avatar

    Assuming the government needs more money from motorists, why use an expensive toll system and not increase gas tax a bit? Of course none of the options is popular, but the toll roads would cost the motorist even more due to the overhead and profit (assuming the government always wants/needs the same amount of revenue from us).

    In addition the gas tax give me some choice. I can drive a huge hummer and pay the price, or a small corolla and pay less. (all considering the government would care about the environment, energy and energy independence)

    • 0 avatar

      Unfortunately, the current US political climate makes any taxation issue fatal to politicians. Anyone who supports a tax increase will get beaten bloody by his opponents. Toll roads, on the other hand, have the support of many separate agendas. Construction companies get paid to build toll plazas, tech companies get paid for automated collection systems, and govt bureauocracies get to hire patronage workers. Jobs, jobs, jobs!

      Tolls do give you a choice to pay less by driving less, and the ultimate reduction in energy usage is had by reducing miles driven, not by reducing fuel consumed per mile driven.

  • avatar

    Kiss free travel goodbye, this will catch on like free baseball tickets. The revenue stream will flow to unionized state highway workers to continue with years long projects.
    Have they even thought of the economic impact across the board of this? Or are the motorists supposed to suck it up?

  • avatar

    Before considering more taxes on drivers, I need to see two numbers.
    The amount of money raised by fuel taxes.
    The amount of money spent on highway construction/maintenance.
    The “congestion pricing” argument is just a way to raise taxes.  I want to understand that there is an actual revenue shortfall for highway construction/maintenance.

  • avatar

    Of course, “You still have to pay income taxes…. How else are we going to have roads…. Since only extremists wants to live in a baaaad, baaad Libertarian country where you have to pay to drive on the roads and stuff….I mean, then only the rich people get to drive and things are unfair and things…..”

  • avatar

    The most damage to highway’s is caused by the size of the vehicle.  Raising the GAS TAX is a GOOD way to put the cost where it belongs.
    And yes, the ability to drive anywhere in America, on tax payer funded roads, without having to pay a special HIGH Toll Fee, almost everywhere, was part of what made America Great.

    • 0 avatar


      I flew up to Chicago to pick up a new (to me) car this past Tuesday and drove it back home to KY. I couldn’t wait to get out of Illinois. There was a toll plaza every 8 – 10 miles on I-294 heading into Indiana. I obviously didn’t have an E-Z Pass, so there I was, weaving back to the righthand lanes so I could stop for the cash line at the toll plaza. It sucked. 

    • 0 avatar

      The most damage to highway’s is caused by the size of the vehicle.  Raising the GAS TAX is a GOOD way to put the cost where it belongs.
      And what about those of us that commute a significant distance everyday? I only drive a crappy Chevy Cobalt with a four-cylinder, but I still get gas almost every other day. Raising the gas tax at all is bad news IMO.

    • 0 avatar

      The problem is that the vehicle’s damage to a road does not increase in proportion to its weight.

      An SUV isn’t causing any more damage to the road than a Honda Civic. The real damage is done by 80,000 pound tractor trailers.

    • 0 avatar


      I get that stopping at the toll booths is a pain, but this is why tolling makes sense. You probably didn’t stop for gas in IL, thus didn’t pay any local taxes for your road use. The 3 or 4 tolls you did pay helped cover your usage. And you had the choice of routes that didn’t charge tolls (I-90, I-94, I-57, surface streets), but you found I-294 to be faster/more convenient (partly because some traffic shifts off the toll road). It’s reasonable to expect you to pay for that.

  • avatar

    Isn’t this a sign that it’s about time to raise the federal gas tax which hasn’t been changed for decades?

  • avatar

    But ONE of a multitude of aspects to consider regarding transportation costs.
    Prices of goods in the stores since pert-near everything on store shelves involves (any exceptions must be quite rare) moving the goods upon roadways at some point.
    Perhaps some day the hand-drawn cart will make a resurgence.
    One way to get the excess lard off a few USA citizens.
    And those folks will likely be able to beat you up in the fight over dumpster delicacies.

  • avatar

    “These projects show that states are developing new ways of thinking about how to manage congestion,”

    Based on demonstrated assurance that voters are simpletons. 

  • avatar

    If this were about congestion then the toll roads they want so badly would be free during off peak hours.

  • avatar

    A democrat govt raising taxes?  Naw.  It can’t be true.  Obama told me he wouldn’t raise my taxes.. Er except for healthcare, oh and electricity prices should go up, can’t have those filthy coal plants anymore, btw, cigarette prices should be higher for “the children”, oh and the Euros have this thing callsd VAT… 

    I’ve been waiting for the shoe to drop (or the hammer) on cars for a while.

  • avatar

    So, in my daily two-hour commute, am I supposed to rely on “mass transit”? I can’t see a bus taking me that far. And a train? Surely you jest.

  • avatar

    I’m in favor of raising the fuel tax vs tolling roads.  On that note, I agree with TCED2…open those books up.  I want to see what types of “pet projects” our tax dollars are being used for.  Cut out highway “beautification” projects!

  • avatar

    I do think that tolling via automated systems (in addition to gas taxes) is a compelling way to pay for road usage in a more equitable manner. The ability to vary tolls according to demand would help shift some travellers to alternatives (mass transit, work from home) and others to off-peak hours (trucking). This also works better than gas taxes when states have disparate rates; motorists can’t avoid paying for their travel by buying fuel in a neighboring state.

    My biggest problem with toll systems is the lack of privacy in the data collected. With no requirement to show cause for accessing records, law enforcement (and anyone well connected) can review the travel habits of any driver they please. This situation invites abuse, and the spread of data collection via tolling would make the problem much worse. Accessing toll records must require a warrant to ensure that casual access is not allowed. Of course, when our courts are holding that law enforcement doesn’t need a warrant to attach a GPS unit to your car, I don’t expect that we’re going to get any real privacy protection for our travel.

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