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Conn. Lawmaker Wants To Impose Tolls On Interstates To Raise Infrastructure Revenues

Tollbooth (file/credit: William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)

Tollbooth (file/credit: William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – A proposal President Barack Obama has sent to Congress to fix the nation’s roadways could give the green light to states like Connecticut to install tolls on existing interstate highways.

As WCBS 880’s Jim Smith reported, Connecticut State Rep. Tony Guerrera said the time for tolls has come.

“The federal government can’t substantiate the amount of money to fix their infrastructure,” he told Smith.

The U.S. Department of Transportation secretary has said federal funds are nearly tapped out. Guerrera said the gas tax alone is no longer enough to fund road repairs as car become more fuel-efficient.

“You’re not going to the pump as often as you would’ve been maybe 10 years ago,” said Guerrera. “We need some other way to start fixing our roads and bridges.”

He thinks drivers would go for the idea so out-of-staters who now don’t buy gas would pay their share in tolls.

But Miles Morin with the Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates calls it a gimmick.

“It’s not a panacea of transportation funding,” he told Smith. “We think it’s inequitable and it’s unfair.”

Morin said tolls hurt the economy and low-income drivers.

The Obama administration sent a four-year, $302 billion transportation plan to Congress, hoping to jump-start a national debate on how to repair and replace the nation’s aging infrastructure while accommodating the needs of a growing population.

Action is urgently needed because the federal Highway Trust Fund is expected to run dry by late August, said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. Unless Congress acts to shore up the fund, transportation aid to states will be held up and workers laid off at construction sites across the country, he said.

The bill would encourage states to directly raise more money for transportation projects by loosening restrictions on tolling federal interstates. States are barred from tolling federal interstates now except if the money is used to add lanes or otherwise increase capacity, or if the highways have had tolls dating back to before the federal interstate highway program was launched in 1956. There have also been some limited pilot projects that permit tolling.

The administration plan would let states toll interstates to pay for repair or replacement of the highways. Many interstates, built to last 50 years, are past their life expectancy and in need of more substantial repairs than simple repaving. States would also be allowed to introduce “variable” tolling, tolls that change according to the time of day or traffic conditions. The tolls are designed to encourage more drivers to carpool or use public transit in an effort to relieve congestion.

Lawmakers in both parties have been reluctant to raise the 18.4 cent a gallon federal gasoline tax and 24.4 cent diesel tax, the trust fund’s main source of revenue. The last time they were raised was 1993.

Meanwhile, two decades of inflation has driven up the cost of construction, while revenue has lagged because Americans are driving less and cars are more fuel-efficient.

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