User-based revenue as a long-term solution for funding transportation infrastructure

With federal fuels taxes in decline, tolling is enjoying growing acceptance as an important component of the U.S. transportation infrastructure funding mix. In fact, a 2017 HNTB America THINKS survey found that 70 percent of Americans are willing to pay more through a combination of higher taxes and tolls to pay for maintenance of existing roads, bridges and tunnels, as well as build new ones.

Today, 35 states have a total of 5,900 miles of tolled roads, and 5.7 billion trips are taken annually on tolled U.S. roads and crossings, according to the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association. By 2030, IBTTA predicts the industry will be four to five times larger. The prominence of tolling, in addition to its potential growth, position it to become a key revenue-generator for states that seek transportation funding solutions. In fact, the current Administration’s Infrastructure Plan calls for lifting restrictions on tolling of existing interstates. Current law allows for up to three states to participate in a pilot program for interstate tolling, but if more states had this freedom, robust new funding could be generated.

Another financing strategy includes the use of toll credits as a soft match for the federal share on projects, which is allowed under current law. The Federal Highway Administration has even floated the idea of creating a marketplace where states could sell toll credits to other states for use.

These points being made, it is important to emphasize that tolling is not the "silver bullet" that will solve all our states' funding needs. Rather, it is a local decision that, when used in the proper context, can provide a sustainable source of revenue for transportation infrastructure projects.

Americans see tolling’s value
In addition to funding, tolling serves many other functions. The previously mentioned HNTB America THINKS survey also revealed 80 percent of Americans would support tolls on existing highways and interstates if the funds are directed to specific uses. These Americans believe those funds should be used to:
  • Reduce congestion/clear bottlenecks on existing highways/interstates
  • Improve safety of existing highways/interstates
  • Add capacity or additional lanes to improve the existing highways/interstates
  • Add transit capacity to support adjacent rail transit or bus rapid transit

Technology leads to advancements
As an influx of connected and automated vehicles enters the U.S. transportation network, toll agencies should prepare by investing in upgrades to their systems that compliment this technology. A 2018 HNTB Viewpoint covers this topic, describing how agencies interested in investing can proceed.

Advancements in technology have made tolling a more efficient, sophisticated enterprise. Toll collection is more user-friendly and strategic applications of tolling have become an effective way to manage urban congestion.
  • Electronic tolling – Advanced revenue collections systems have made tolling an efficient way to collect revenue, and many toll facilities have or are converting from cash-based collection to faster, user-friendly all-electronic tolling.
  • Interoperability – Soon, traveling on multiple toll facilities will be seamless. Statements and toll transactions will be bundled, so the customer can review and pay all charges with one account.
  • Priced managed lanes – States are using congestion pricing to moderate demand during peak periods and maintain a superior level of service.

Tolling projects
HNTB is an engineering consultant to more tolling agencies than any other firm in the country. The firm has served the toll industry for more than 60 years. Select projects include:
HNTB Tolling Experts
HNTB’s tolling experts are ready to discuss trends as well as the state of the industry and its promising future:

Kevin Hoeflich, PE, is HNTB's chairman of toll services, focusing on toll client service, strategic planning and growing the firm's overall tolling practice. His expertise includes program management, priced managed lanes, all electronic tolling and technology applications.

Greg Le Frois, PE, is senior vice president and vice chairman of the national toll services practice for HNTB. Le Frois has significant experience in toll project feasibility studies, tolling policies, toll road planning and design, and managed lane planning and design.

Brad Guilmino is HNTB’s chief financial consultant. He has experience with a wide range of public transportation agencies and has specific expertise with project finance, tolling, revenue and sales tax bonding, federal programs and public-private partnerships.

Selected HNTB thought leadership
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