Tolls key to bridge, highway improvement

April 28, 2014 

 Brent Spence Bridge in Northern KY

There are plans to build a $2.4 billion span to relieve traffic problems on the Brent Spence Bridge, left, which crosses the Ohio River between Kentucky and Cincinnati.

FARON COLLINS

  • At issue: April 12 Herald-Leader article, "Beshear vetoes parts of budget"

By vetoing a proposed ban on tolling the Brent Spence Bridge, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear has expressed a common-sense view that is rapidly entering the American mainstream: Tolling is a proven way to pay for highways and bridges that are in urgent need of repair, reconstruction and expansion.

Beshear's comment last year that "there's not a major bridge project in the country that doesn't involve the use of tolls and other creative financing mechanisms" is among a growing chorus of governors, legislators and municipal leaders across the country who are looking for alternative options to fund local and national infrastructure projects.

The Brent Spence is a perfect example of a funding crisis that is unfolding each day in regions across the country.

According to recent news reports, the bridge was originally built to carry 80,000 cars and 3,000 trucks a day, a substantial flow of traffic in 1963. Today the Brent Spence bridge carries double the traffic — 160,000 vehicles — with the number of trucks having grown tenfold to 30,000.

Take the looming insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund, add the near-certainty that Congress will steer away from a federal gas tax increase in this year's transportation reauthorization, and you can see why so many state and local governments are raising revenue to address and solve their own transportation challenges.

With the governor's veto, he has kept the door open to more creative and innovative solutions to ensuring our roadways and bridges can remain open, safe and reliable.

Beshear is not the only state leader who takes the position that "it is imprudent to eliminate any potential means of financing construction of such a vital piece of infrastructure," as he said in his veto statement. Within the state, the Kentucky CEO Roundtable and the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce have both formally endorsed tolling and urged legislators to do the same.

By acknowledging tolling as one important tool in the transportation toolbox, Beshear is counting on a proven funding strategy with a positive track record in 35 states.

Funding today's transportation system requires a variety of solutions, and everything should be on the table so that states like Kentucky can pick the funding solutions that suit them best.

To bring those arguments home in the Bluegrass State, it's important to understand three essential facts about modern toll roads:

There are no free roads: Highways need continuing maintenance and upgrading, just like homes and water mains. Nobody wants to raise the gas tax, and tolling is a proven, efficient way to pay for road improvements.

A toll is a user fee, not a tax: Tolls draw a clear, direct line between use of a facility and payment for that use. That makes tolling a fair, precise way to fund our highways, bridges and tunnels.

Most modern toll roads collect tolls electronically, with cars moving through the facilities at highway speed. There's no toll booth, and no need to worry about delays or loose change.

By taking a strong, principled stand for toll financing, Beshear is taking a decisive step to improve Kentucky's highway infrastructure and assure the state's competitiveness and prosperity for decades to come.

Patrick D. Jones is executive director and CEO of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association, the worldwide association for the owners and operators of toll facilities and the businesses that serve them.

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