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 2018 HNTB America THINKS survey found 79 percent of Americans are willing to pay tolls to avoid congestion and have predictable travel times, even when free alternatives are available. 

Today, 35 states have a total of 6,200 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 now, in addition to its potential growth, positions it to become a key revenue-generator for states seeking transportation funding solutions. 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.

It is important to emphasize that tolling is not the "silver bullet" that will solve all state 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.

Technology leads to advancements
As an influx of connected and automated vehicles enters the U.S. transportation network, toll agencies should ready their systems to 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 a consultant to more tolling agencies than any other firm in the U.S. The firm has served the toll industry for more than 60 years. Select projects include:
HNTB Knows Tolls
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.

Brad Guilmino is national director HNTB Advisory. 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.

Greg Le Frois is senior vice president and vice chairman of the national toll services practice. Le Frois has significant experience, including toll project feasibility studies, tolling policies, toll road planning and design, managed lane planning and design, toll plaza and toll gantry layout and design. 

Selected HNTB thought leadership
Selected media
Photo: Harris County Toll Road Authority's Hardy Toll Road, Houston