As US transport agencies at the local, state and federal level implode under the weight of an economic tidal wave, the toll industry’s open road tolling technology may prove to be the highway industry’s best hope, claims US transport writer David Fierro.
Motor fuel tax revenues are in a free fall in the USA largely due to reduced miles traveled because of higher fuel costs, more fuel-efficient automobiles and a sagging automotive sales market.
These three factors have combined to put most US states in a triage mode, trying to preserve transport work programs in the face of declining revenues.
Consider the evidence:
Last week, the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHTO) Center for Excellence in Project Finance held the first Wharton Transportation Executive Program at the University of Pennsylvania.
Dash from gas
Emil Frankel, former assistant secretary for transport policy for the US Department of Transportation, presented the keynote address at the Wharton meeting, claiming that states and the US federal government will have to shift transportation revenue sources from gas taxes to user fees to survive in future.
The most attractive solution among the user fee approaches is ORT, which allows motorists to pass under electronic toll collection gantries at speed with tolls either being deducted from their accounts via a transponder or cameras taking photographs of their license plates and a statement arriving every month in the mail.
Proponents say the benefits are numerous: Fewer delays and less congestion; lower payroll costs; reduced pollution from cars waiting in line. Also, no large tracts of land are needed for toll plazas, so toll roads can be added in tight urban corridors to relieve congestion.
ORT has special appeal in the era of US$4-a-gallon fuel, says Joseph Giglio, a transportation expert at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, as drivers don’t want to waste expensive fuel inching ahead to pay at a toll booth.
“The states know they can’t depend on funds coming out of the Highway Trust Fund,” Giglio says. “Even the state DOT people know that with fuel prices so high, it’s very difficult for a politician to fall on their sword and try to raise the gas tax. So they have to find another source of revenue. That source of revenue is tolling, and the next generation of tolling is to get rid of all the barriers and toll plazas.”
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