News and Views

The Free Lance-Star : Editorial: Interstate highways should not be toll roads

A transportation system that allows for the free flow of people and goods is as essential to the nation’s economy as a healthy circulation system is to the human body. That’s why transportation is one of the federal government’s most important domestic responsibilities.

Unfortunately, in the half century since the interstate highway system was created, members of Congress have often viewed their obligation to maintain and expand it as merely one of many programs competing for federal funds, rather than the top priority it should have been all along. In doing so, they failed to provide sufficient resources to repair aging highways and bridges and add new ones to handle increased traffic.

 Falling revenue from the federal gas tax, which has not been raised since 1993, has only exacerbated the situation. So now the Congressional Research Service reports that some members of Congress are seriously considering adding tolls to make up the difference.

Under current federal law, federally-funded highways, bridges, and tunnels must be reconstructed or replaced before they can be converted into toll roads.

The CRS reports that more than 1,000 miles of the nation’s interstate highways have already been turned into toll roads since 1990. Adding toll booths to the rest of the 46,876-mile system could eventually haul in $112 billion in revenue annually, CRS calculates, but it would take up to 15 years to recover the estimated $1 trillion-to-$3 trillion upfront cost.

This amount “would represent a much larger financial burden on interstate users than they currently bear in the form of motor fuels taxes,” CRS noted.

That would certainly let the politicians in Washington off the hook, but it would impose a large tax increase on Americans, who have already paid to build these roads. Tolls already make driving on parts of Interstate 95 prohibitively expensive for some retired, disabled and low-income people. Adding to that burden would force many to find less convenient alternative routes to get where they need to go.

This is definitely not what President Dwight D. Eisenhower had in mind when his administration reaffirmed a 1916 law requiring that highways paid for with taxpayer money be “free from tolls of all kinds.” Congress should find another way to pay for the necessary and long overdue improvements.

The federal interstate highway system Eisenhower built more than 50 years ago is America’s largest and greatest public works project. It is also one of our nation’s great bipartisan success stories. It has allowed unparalleled freedom of movement, united the nation, and expanded economic growth far beyond all prior expectations.

This crisscrossing network of highways, an enduring symbol of American ingenuity and resolve, was built for all Americans to freely use, regardless of their financial status. It remains a prime example of the democratic ideal in action. Let’s keep it that way.

Read the full story from The Free Lance-Star.

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