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Highway tolls, user fees needed to maintain state transportation infrastructure



Oregon has long been an incubator of new ways to fund and maintain transportation infrastructure.

Oregon was the first state to institute the gas tax and the first to pilot charging for road use. And Portland’s Rep. Earl Blumenauer has been advancing forward-thinking transportation policies for 40 years.

This sort of bold and innovative thinking is why the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association is bringing state, regional, national and international transportation leaders to Portland this week to explore new ways to generate sustainable funding for our growing transportation infrastructure.

But even Oregon’s most innovative approaches can’t overcome some obstacles. Congress hasn’t increased the 18.4 cents per gallon federal gas tax since 1993 and, since that time, the gas tax has lost more than a third of its purchasing power. Compounding this issue, Americans use less gasoline because they drive fewer miles per capita and because newer vehicles have higher fuel efficiency. As a result, the federal Highway Trust Fund has become woefully insufficient to meet today’s needs.

Regardless of your politics, there is little debate over the critical need for net new revenues to build and repair our nation’s roads and bridges. Chambers of commerce, labor unions, auto users and other groups have asked Congress to increase the gas tax by up to 15 cents per gallon to support a multiyear transportation bill. That’s a good start, but it’s not sustainable in the long run because we as a nation are increasingly moving to alternative-fueled vehicles that pay no fuel tax at all. In the end, we need a source of revenue that doesn’t depend on the fuel we consume. Instead, we need a set of funding mechanisms that depend on the miles traveled.

One proven method with a long history is tolls. Thirty-five states now use toll financing to build and operate much-needed infrastructure. There are nearly 6,000 miles of tolled facilities in the United States, and nearly 3,000 of those miles are on the interstate highway system. Recent research shows that more than four-fifths of all Americans think tolls should be considered as a primary source of transportation revenue on a project-by-project basis.

Some may ask why states would need to add tolls for highways that are “already paid for.” The fact is that roads are never paid for. They need ongoing maintenance to keep them safe and reliable. And that requires a steady stream of funding.

We’re in Portland this week to explore the many ways that both tolls and road use fees can make a difference in communities across America and around the world. Tolls and road use fees are two powerful and effective tools in the transportation funding toolbox that every state and community should have at their disposal.

Oregon — like other states in this diverse nation — needs safe, reliable and well-maintained highways to meet its citizens’ current and future transportation needs and to support a growing economy. Solid, sustainable funding sources like tolls and road use fees can help Oregon and other states develop the long-term funding stream they need to support our critical road, bridge and tunnel infrastructure.

Patrick Jones is executive director and CEO of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association, the worldwide association of toll facility owners and operators and the businesses that serve them, which holds its Transportation Financing & Road Usage Charging Conference in Portland on April 26-28. Reach Jones by email at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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