A top congressional leader on Wednesday made clear his opposition to President Obama’s idea of spending $10 billion to create a national infrastructure bank (view details). The bank, part of the White House jobs bill, would offer public subsidy for the financing of “public private partnerships” — which most often would take the form of a toll road. The chairman of the US House Transportation Committee said at a hearing the president’s plan would not advance.
“A national infrastructure bank is dead on arrival in the House of Representatives,” Chairman John Mica (R-Florida) said. “If you want a recipe to put off job creation, adopt that national infrastructure bank proposal.”
A plan to spend $1.5 million in federal gas tax funding to help a private company purchase the Ohio Turnpike was torpedoed by a group of Democratic members of Congress from the Buckeye State. US Department of Transportation officials held a conference call Friday to let US Representatives Marcia Fudge, Marcy Kaptur, Dennis Kucinich, Tim Ryan Betty Sutton, and Senator Sherrod Brown know that the project had been shelved.
Toll roads at one point appeared to be unstoppable. Steady growth in traffic yielded rapidly rising profits, especially for pioneers in the field such as Australia’s Macquarie Bank where executives became so rich from deals that included the leasing of US roads that it was dubbed the “millionaires’ factory.” That all changed when the recession took hold and motorists scaled back on the mileage driven each year. Losses began to mount, and as a report released last week by Fitch Ratings argues, the dynamics for tolling may not improve in the near future.
“Fitch tracks data on toll roads, bridges, and tunnels across its ratings portfolio,” Fitch analysts wrote in the report, Downshifting: US Transportation Reacts as GDP Growth Flattens. “Traffic declined year over year as much as 10 percent during the Great Recession. Sustained positive growth in traffic commenced in February 2010. The most recent Fitch data indicates that growth in traffic volumes began slowly declining on tolled facilities, heading to zero growth in second-quarter 2011.”
Public employees can take rides on toll roads at taxpayer expense, but these trips are not subject to disclosure according to a ruling Tuesday by the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court. A three-judge panel denied the freedom of information request of the Harrisburg Patriot-News for E-ZPass transponder usage information data by for employees of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. On October 21 the paper sought details on the 2000 toll collectors who do not pay for use of the road, regardless of whether the travel was job related.
Voters in Washington state will decide in November whether to slow down the state’s push toward tolling. Initiative 1125 prohibits lawmakers from diverting toll road revenue and other levies on motorists toward non-transportation purposes. It also forces politicians to vote directly on any toll hikes.
“If there’s going to be tolls, there has to be accountability and transparency,” initiative co-sponsor Tim Eyman of Voters Want More Choices wrote in an email. “It’s simply not too much to ask for taxpayers who are being forced to pay twice for their roadway infrastructure (the highest gas tax in the nation and tolls) that the legislature be required to follow the law and abide by the Constitution.”