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Support for Tolls, Mileage Fees Grows

Thursday, September 22, 2016

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A recent survey of American drivers suggests that most support the idea of tolls if they’ll help ease congestion and limit drive times.

The survey, conducted in July by Kelton Global on behalf of infrastructure firm HNTB, builds on opinion work done earlier this year by the same organizations. Part of HNTB’s America THINKS series, it looks specifically at Americans’ willingness to pay tolls for specific benefits.

The poll comes alongside a new white paper from HNTB, suggesting mileage-based user fees as an alternative to raising taxes to fund highway work.

Support for Tolls

According to the survey, 72 percent of respondents would support tolls to fund infrastructure projects that would reduce the time they spent stuck in traffic, if other funds were unavailable. Similarly, 69 percent said they’d be likely to use a toll road over a free road if they knew it would save them time and keep them out of traffic.

I-95 toll plaza
© / digidreamgrafix

The survey reveals that 52 percent of respondents would be willing to pay tolls if doing so would improve safety on an existing highway.

A section of the survey that addresses specific reasons for tolling reveals that 52 percent of respondents would be willing to pay tolls if doing so would improve safety on an existing highway. Nearly as many—46 percent—would pay tolls to reduce congestion on urban highways, and 43 percent said they would pay tolls in order to add lanes or capacity to a highway.

A smaller number, 25 percent, would pay tolls in order to add transit that would support nearby rail or bus rapid transit. Some respondents—19 percent—said they would never support tolls on existing highways.

The survey also asked drivers to choose between three specific methods of funding infrastructure work: tolls, mileage-based user fees or increased taxes. Nearly half—45 percent—said they would choose tolls; 32 percent favored mileage-based fees, in which drivers’ miles would be tracked and they would be taxed accordingly. The smallest segment, 23 percent, favored higher taxes.

The survey, conducted between July 21-28, 2016, gauged the opinions of 1,022 American adults, whom the polling firm says reliably represented the U.S. population. The margin of error, according to the company, is plus or minus 3.1 percent.

Mileage-Based Pricing

HNTB, an infrastructure solutions firm that designs tolling systems and price-managed lanes, in addition to general infrastructure planning, design and project management, also released a white paper detailing what it describes as insufficient infrastructure funding in the U.S., and its suggested fixes, especially mileage-based fees.

“Among the most significant” factors leading to infrastructure issues “is the diminishing effectiveness of the gasoline tax, which hasn’t increased since 1993,” the white paper reads.

“Mileage-based pricing is a sustainable model because of the direct correlation between the mechanism and the outcome,” HNTB notes. “Fees generate revenue to pay for maintenance.”

Toll survey chart

Of over 1,000 respondents, 69 percent said they’d be likely to use a toll road over a free road if they knew it would save them time and keep them out of traffic.

Other have agreed: The RAND Corporation, in a 2012 publication on the topic, notes, “A system of mileage fees—while challenging to design and implement and more costly to administer—would offer a significantly more stable source of funding in future decades and could support additional policy goals as well.”

Proponents of mileage-based systems note that increasing fuel efficiency means less funding via the gasoline tax, because drivers use less fuel to travel the same distance. A mileage-based pricing system would levy user fees based on use of the roads, rather than on use of gasoline.

Oregon and California both have pilot programs in place to test mileage-based pricing, HNTB notes, with more states planning to join in.

Addressing Concerns

The firm notes that issues that have stemmed arguments against mileage-based systems, including privacy concerns and worries regarding disproportionate effects on lower-income rural residents, who generally must travel greater distances to take care of day-to-day needs, will need to be addressed if the method is to be installed on a large scale.

HNTB contends, “The seeds are only now being planted and it may take years to achieve a nationwide system of mileage-based pricing, but any historic pursuit of sweeping proportions is worth the time and effort.”


Tagged categories: Federal Highway Administration (FHWA); Finance; Funding; Infrastructure; North America; Program/Project Management; Roads/Highways; Taxes

Comment from Steve Johnson, (9/22/2016, 8:26 AM)

Brought to you by the people that design and build toll roads. I take this with a grain of salt.

Comment from Brandon Lecrone, (9/22/2016, 8:41 AM)

Agreed Steve Johnson. Also, I was disappointed to see the disparity between the support of tolls vehicle lanes and that for mass transit infrastructure. We want less congestion, but we don't support one of the best ways to achieve that. America needs to get over their love affair with the automobile if traffic congestion is ever to be really improved in a meaningful way.

Comment from Jim Johnson, (9/22/2016, 10:43 AM)

It is amazing that I seem to know all the wrong people. I have discussed toll roads with hundreds of people and every single person I know hates them. People feel they pay a state and federal gas tax to drive on that road...Now they should pay more? These statistics do not pass the smell test.

Comment from M. Halliwell, (9/22/2016, 11:25 AM)

Hmmm, definitely biased towards a result. If the only options presented are higher taxes (which is a highly negative thing across pretty much the entire population except certain politicians), "Big Brother" being able to track your car (to get your mileage...but what else could they do with the info?) or paying a toll with the laudable goal of reducing time spent in traffic or make roads safer, you know what people will choose. Unfortunately, it misses several key items: people don't want their public roads becoming toll roads, in many areas there's no room to add a toll road to the existing infrastructure grid, it doesn't deal with the issue of urban sprawl and it ignores options like effective mass transit, cycling and other ways to reduce traffic congestion and improve traffic safety. Stats and polls can be manipulated to get the answer you want...if you ask 20 people for a list of ice cream flavors they like and 18 include chocolate, it doesn't necessarily mean it's the most popular flavor (vanilla may have been on 20 lists) or that it's a large part of the market (there could be 50 flavors in the responses all getting 15+ votes)...but the chocolate ice cream makers will tell you that 90% or respondents in the poll like their chocolate ice cream and you should too ;)

Comment from Mark Anater, (9/23/2016, 8:35 AM)

Gasoline taxes are already inadequate for road financing, but no lawmaker wants to raise them for fear of backlash. Toll roads aren't very popular either, as they slow traffic and inconvenience drivers. One of these days driverless cars will substantially reduce traffic and allow most people to get by without owning their own car, but that day isn't here yet. So what to do? The courageous thing would be to build better public transport and discourage so much driving, but more likely we will put a Band Aid on the problem and try to wish it away.

Comment from Mark Bowen, (10/1/2016, 12:21 PM)

Being able to go where you want, when you want, without paying for the privilege is one of the definitions of freedom. If you choose to live in an area which is too congested for this, then you need to save enough money to move out, or learn to deal with it.

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