Statehouse Primer
Toll talk needs to stop

By Mike Matousek, OOIDA Director of State Legislative Affairs

Federal and state transportation accounts are unable to keep up with the cost of maintaining and constructing roads and bridges. In fact, the federal Highway Trust Fund is projected to have a negative balance at some point this summer unless Congress can enact a temporary or long-term fix – the former being the more likely scenario. And many state transportation trust funds are in bad shape as well. The question now is not whether additional revenue is needed, but rather how much and where it will come from.

Because the federal government and many state governments are either unable or unwilling to raise fuel taxes – or better yet, spend transportation funds on actual transportation projects – lawmakers are now looking at alternative sources of revenue. In a lot of cases, this means tolling roads and bridges, as if somehow a toll is not a tax.

Kentucky truckers: You are encouraged to reach out to your state lawmakers and ask them to support efforts to keep the Brent Spence Bridge toll free. Call 800-372-7181 and simply let the operator know that you would like to leave a message for your House and Senate lawmakers.

If you are not squeezed enough by a variety of taxes, fees and fines, states throughout the country are looking at another way of taking money out of your wallet and putting it into their pocket. I’m talking about tolls.

One example is the Brent Spence Bridge that spans the Ohio River between Ohio and Kentucky on I-75. The bridge was originally opened in 1963, which means lawmakers and transportation officials had more than 50 years to plan for and pay for its replacement. Yet here we are in 2014 and the only financial option being considered to replace the bridge is tolls.

Although OOIDA does not advocate for or against specific fuel tax rates, we do believe that if additional revenue is needed, increasing the fuel tax is the most efficient and equitable option.

Yet in Ohio, for example, when the bridge first opened, the fuel tax (same rates for both gasoline and diesel) was 7 cents per gallon. It has since increased to 28 cents – an increase of 400 percent.  

However, the average cost of a gallon of gas in 1963 was 30 cents and as of late June the national average for diesel is $3.92 – an increase of 1,300 percent. More recently, in the last 21 years Ohio has only increased the fuel tax rate by 6 cents, from 22 to 28 cents per gallon.

So will Ohio increase the fuel tax to address their transportation funding shortfall? Probably not. 

Gov. John Kasich recently signed into law legislation that gives the state authority to enter into a public-private partnership, or P3, to toll their portion of the Brent Spence Bridge. However, before the project can move forward Kentucky must enact a similar law.

The Kentucky Legislature sent a bill to Gov. Steve Beshear this year that authorized P3s, but a change made to the bill by state Rep. Arnold Simpson specifically prohibited using tolls to finance Kentucky’s portion of the bridge project. Gov. Beshear vetoed the bill because of that provision.

OOIDA is now focused on working with the Kentucky Legislature, the Kentucky Motor Transport Association, and any other interested party that believe the Brent Spence Bridge should remain toll free.

Roads and bridges are public assets and should not be sold or leased to the highest bidder. OOIDA appreciates that transportation funds are scarce, but tolling our interstate highway system is not in the public interest and certainly not in the interest of truck drivers. And to be clear, the fight against tolls is much bigger than Ohio and Kentucky – especially as funding continues to dry up, as our roads and bridges continue to deteriorate, and as our elected leaders refuse to make tough choices. LL