More Toll Roads Likely With New Administration

more toll roads likely with new administration

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) on Friday announced the creation of a new office whose primary goal will be to lobby state governments to convert their freeways into toll roads. While some congressional leaders expressed hope that the change represented by FHWA’s new Office of Innovative Program Delivery would be reversed by the next administration, there is reason to believe that the incoming administration will continue supporting public private partnership (PPP) initiatives. For now, the toll road promotion office sits at the top of FHWA’s organizational chart to emphasize its primary place within the federal transportation department.

“The Director of Innovative Program Delivery provides advice, guidance, and research support related to tolling and pricing initiatives and administers tolling authorities,” Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters wrote. “[The office also] promotes the development and use of techniques associated with providing transportation in terms of innovative and non‑traditional funding sources, innovative contractual processes, and changing roles and responsibilities involved in designing, constructing, operating, maintaining, financing, obtaining, and procuring highway facilities.”

These “innovative and non-traditional” funding mechanisms have caused concern among local and federal representatives in the wake of the ongoing financial crisis. U.S. House Transportation Committee Chairman James L. Oberstar (D) and Highways Subcommittee Chairman Peter A. DeFazio (D) yesterday wrote to Secretary Peters to oppose the single-minded focus on tolling.

“The financial crisis and the tightening of credit markets have raised serious questions over the governance structure and financial viability of firms involved in a number of PPPs,” Oberstar and DeFazio wrote. “The dependence of these firms on debt and asset inflation rather than income or cash flows to finance acquisitions and pay dividends to shareholders has raised questions concerning the sustainability of this model. It also highlights the risks and consequences of rushing into long-term deals that are not structured appropriately or do not contain sufficient contingencies to address unanticipated crisis.”

The two chairmen attempted in their election day letter to pin the blame President George W. Bush (R) for the excessive emphasis on tolling.

“The Bush administration’s rush to embrace and promote PPPs and other innovative financing arrangements may hurt future efforts to positively harness private investment and innovation for the public good,” the congressional leaders wrote.

This, however, is the same type of arrangement called for in the Infrastructure Bank Act that is a key part of the agenda of President-elect Barack Obama (D). Obama hopes to establish the bank to provide $60b for infrastructure projects with “a preference for projects which leverage private financing, including public-private partnerships” ( view details). Moreover, in March, Senator Obama endorsed New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s idea to charge a $9 toll on cars and a $22 toll for trucks that enter downtown Manhattan during working hours.

“I think Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal for congestion pricing is a thoughtful and innovative approach to the problem,” Obama told WNYC radio in March. “The basic notion that we should do what we can to reduce congestion, to reduce pollution, to reduce consumption of foreign oil and to then to reinvest dollars into our infrastructure in mass transit.”

[ Click here to read the Oberstar-DeFazio letter to DOT Sec. Mary Peters]

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  • on Nov 05, 2008

    I'm actually agreeing with psarhjinian, though it appears that I come from the opposite end of the political spectrum. At the risk of being stoned, I work for a government agency, the Health Department, and I can testify to the fact that I personally could get literally ten times as much work done if it weren't for the bosses proverbally looking over my shoulder and reviewing, questioning, and picking apart every little thing that I and everybody else does here. They're all so afraid that someone will make a mistake, due to the mistakes of a few (who evidently can't be fired), that everybody is wrapped up in red tape. The funny thing is that mistakes still happen, it seems that it's only the actual work, protection of public health, that is prevented. I don't know about other offices, but our equipment is outdated. It's gold-plated priced but garbage quality. Why? Because we are required to support government cronies in our purchasing, which is centrally controlled to prevent improper use of funds by field offices. For instance, for the price we pay for IT support, I could get a new, top-of-the-line, computer every year with a great service from a private provider. What do I get? "Sorry, we don't have time to take car of that right now; we'll get to it when we can." And, a computer that is six year old technology at best. People who think that increased government involvement will reduce costs and improve service have never seen big government from the inside.

  • Golf4me Golf4me on Nov 05, 2008

    Wait a minute...hasn't my tax dollar already paid for any current interstate highway? And now they are going to charge me to drive on what I already paid for? Hmmm...enjoy Obama, everyone.

  • Dennis Howerton Nice article, Cory. Makes me wish I had bought Festivas when they were being produced. Kia made them until the line was discontinued, but Kia evidently used some of the technology to make the Rio. Pictures of the interior look a lot like my Rio's interior, and the 1.5 liter engine is from Mazda while Ford made the automatic transmission in the used 2002 Rio I've been driving since 2006. I might add the Rio is also an excellent subcompact people mover.
  • Sgeffe Bronco looks with JLR “reliability!”What’s not to like?!
  • FreedMike Back in the '70s, the one thing keeping consumers from buying more Datsuns was styling - these guys were bringing over some of the ugliest product imaginable. Remember the F10? As hard as I try to blot that rolling aberration from my memory, it comes back. So the name change to Nissan made sense, and happened right as they started bringing over good-looking product (like the Maxima that will be featured in this series). They made a pretty clean break.
  • Flowerplough Liability - Autonomous vehicles must be programmed to make life-ending decisions, and who wants to risk that? Hit the moose or dive into the steep grassy ditch? Ram the sudden pile up that is occurring mere feet in front of the bumper or scan the oncoming lane and swing left? Ram the rogue machine that suddenly swung into my lane, head on, or hop up onto the sidewalk and maybe bump a pedestrian? With no driver involved, Ford/Volkswagen or GM or whomever will bear full responsibility and, in America, be ambulance-chaser sued into bankruptcy and extinction in well under a decade. Or maybe the yuge corporations will get special, good-faith, immunity laws, nation-wide? Yeah, that's the ticket.
  • FreedMike It's not that consumers wouldn't want this tech in theory - I think they would. Honestly, the idea of a car that can take over the truly tedious driving stuff that drives me bonkers - like sitting in traffic - appeals to me. But there's no way I'd put my property and my life in the hands of tech that's clearly not ready for prime time, and neither would the majority of other drivers. If they want this tech to sell, they need to get it right.
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