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Trump infrastructure plan could lead to more toll roads on interstates

More interstates such as this stretch of Loop 820 in far north Fort Worth could be tolled, under President Trump's infrastructure plan.
More interstates such as this stretch of Loop 820 in far north Fort Worth could be tolled, under President Trump's infrastructure plan. pmoseley@star-telegram.com

Could motorists soon be asked to pay even more tolls on interstate highways?

The answer appears to be yes, based on an early reading of President Donald Trump's far-reaching infrastructure plan unveiled Monday.

It will be interesting to see how the proposal is greeted in Texas, where state elected leaders have ordered the Texas Department of Transportation not to build any more toll lanes. Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price was among the state and local officials from across the country invited to meet with Trump about the plan.

Monday morning, after Trump unveiled the plan, among the first organizations to respond was the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association.

Patrick D. Jones, association executive director, said states need the flexibility to use tolling, especially in areas where the need for better roads is immediate but traditional funding sources like the gasoline tax aren't sufficient.

"While tolling is not appropriate in every circumstance, it is a proven tool that speeds project delivery and provides a steady stream of funding for future road maintenance and improvements," Jones said in a statement. "We look forward to working closely with the administration and Congress on a robust plan to improve America's vital transportation infrastructure."

The new plan appears to run counter to the efforts of many elected leaders in recent years to restrict tolling.

For example, former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, was an ardent opponent of tolling interstates and on several occasions inserted language into federal laws to prohibit the practice. Hutchison served from 1993 to 2013 and is U.S. ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Texas lawmakers have also essentially slammed the brakes on future toll road projects by the Texas Department of Transportation. Their efforts have even drawn concern from Fort Worth officials, who say the state's anti-toll policy raises questions about whether the ongoing expansion of Interstate 35W can be completed.

Tollways already account for 6,200 miles of roadway in 35 states, according to the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association. Some interstates, such as I-95 on the East Coast, are already toll roads. They were grandfathered in after the interstate highway system was created in the 1950s.

So what does the Trump plan say about tolls? On page 20-21 of the plan, it reads:

"Currently, federal law allows tolling interstates in limited circumstances. Tolling restrictions foreclose what might otherwise serve as a major source of revenue for infrastructure investment."

Gordon Dickson: 817-390-7796, @gdickson

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