It is not often that I can congratulate the Obama administration for adopting a policy I've advocated myself. But today I can. Last month in a Washington Examiner column I called for increased use of tolling to finance highways. As I pointed out, the gasoline tax is a diminishing resource -- and will diminish more as the administration's stringent auto mileage standards come into force -- and there is great resistance to raising the federal gas tax. Tolls provide a ready alternative, with transponder technology greatly reducing the cost and hassle of exacting tolls from drivers -- and with fees pegged closely to actual usage of particular highways.
So I am happy to see that the transportation bill (titled the Grow America Act) that Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is recommending to Congress includes a provision to “eliminate the prohibition on tolling existing free Interstate highways, subject to the approval of the Secretary, for purposes of reconstruction, thus providing States greater flexibility to use tolling as a revenue source for needed reconstruction activities on all components of their highway systems. This section would allow any State or public agency to impose variable tolls on existing highways, bridges, or tunnels for purposes of congestion management, subject to the approval of the Secretary.” This presumably wouldn't allow tolling for purposes other than “reconstruction” and “congestion management,” but I suspect that could include very many projects. I hope Congress takes Secretary Foxx's proposal seriously.