The Federal government has for a long time prohibited the use of federal funds in toll road projects. Amid the pork in the approx. $300 billion highway bill, however, are provisions that would lift this ban. Gasoline taxes are not raising enough revenue to support road construction and maintenance at desired levels but no one wants to propose an increase in the gas tax today! In addition, policy makers are finally beginning to understand that there’s no such thing as a free lunch or a free highway. Mary Peters, the administrator of the Federal Highway Administration said recently:
Our Interstate system left the public with the perception that roads are free and price shouldn’t vary according to the demand you place on roads, but that’s a fallacy. If you use the road at a peak time when many other people want to use it, then you should pay a higher price.
I don’t expect to see “free” roads converted to toll roads anytime soon but new roads financed by electronic tolls will become increasingly common and this move will encourage the creation of HOT lanes (high occupancy/toll lanes) in the median or alongside currently congested highways. Northern Virginia, the San Francisco Bay area, Chicago and other centers of heavy congestion for example, could all benefit from HOT lanes. Fairfax endorsed such a road not long ago.