Killing Off the Traveling Public

     WASHINGTON — Drivers on the nation’s Interstates could soon be paying more to travel.
     A transportation proposal sent to Congress by the Obama administration on Tuesday would remove a prohibition on tolls for existing Interstate highways, clearing the way for states to raise revenue on roads that drivers currently use at no cost. Congress banned tolls on Interstates in 1956 when it created the national highway system under President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
     The administration said lifting the toll ban would help address a shortfall in funding to pay for highway repairs. The tolls, along with other changes, could provide an additional $87 billion for aging roadways, tunnels and bridges, the administration said.
     The International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association, which represents toll companies and their vendors, applauded the administration’s decision.
     “Tolling is a proven and effective tool to fund and finance more than 5,000 miles of roads, bridges and tunnels in 35 states,” said Patrick Jones, the group’s executive director. “To ensure our roads and bridges remain safe and reliable requires a variety of solutions. All options should be on the table so that states can choose the funding methods that work best for them.”
     But the Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates, which includes American Trucking Associations, UPS, FedEx, McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts, said it was disappointed.
     “Tolling has proven to be an inefficient mechanism for collecting transportation revenue, consuming up to 20 percent of revenue generated, and those paying the toll may not even see that road improved because the president’s plan would allow toll revenue to go to other projects in the state,” said Miles Morin, spokesman for the alliance.
     Mr. Morin said lifting the ban would cause drivers to bypass Interstate highways, hurting businesses like fast-food franchises that depend on the traffic.
     Some Northeastern states, like Delaware and New Jersey, were allowed to keep tolls on existing highways that became a part of the national system. Other states were allowed to charge tolls on highways that were added to existing Interstates, but that revenue can be used only for repair and maintenance of those roads.
     The proposal comes as Congress prepares to rewrite the existing surface transportation bill. A Congressional Budget Office study found that the Highway Trust Fund, which helps pays for Interstate repairs and is financed by a gasoline tax, will run out of money in August.