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2009-05-28 digital edition

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2009-05-28 / General Stories

Tolling on Existing Federal Highways

Asking Texans to Pay Tolls on Taxpayer Funded Roads is 'Fundamentally Unfair' Says Senitor Kay Bailey Hutchison

WASHINGTON, D.C. - In response to renewed calls for tolling on Texas roads, U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Texas' senior U.S. Senator and ranking Republican on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, on Thursday introduced a bill that would prohibit adding tolls to existing federal highways. Sen. Hutchison has consistently opposed efforts to impose tolls on existing federally-funded roads, which motorists have already paid for through taxes.

"I believe taxing Americans twice for the same asset is fundamentally unfair, and I oppose any effort to place tolls on existing interstate highways," said Sen. Hutchison.

"As we work to meet our transportation needs, we must think broadly and avoid band-aid solutions, like tolling, that will ultimately exacerbate congestion and divert traffic into residential neighborhoods and onto smaller, less safe roads.

Sen. Hutchison's legislation would prevent states, private entities or private-public partnerships from adding tolls on existing free federal highways, bridges or tunnels built with federal funding.

Furthermore, the bill would prohibit states from attempting to purchase highways from the federal government and place them under state ownership or lease them to foreign investors for the purpose of tolling them. The legislation does not prohibit tolls on new construction.

Sen. Hutchison said, "If the state or community wants to expand their highways and toll for building new lanes, they can choose that alternative. In these situations, the taxpayers know exactly what they are getting. Many times a vote is required to approve these projects, but in any case, the taxpayers can hold the relevant officials accountable."

In January, U.S. Transportation Secretary Roy LaHood, when pressed by Sen. Hutchison, testified at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing that he did not think tolling was a "good idea" or the right solution for American transportation challenges.

"The debate on tolling illuminates the broader need to reform the federal highway program. Its antiquated funding formula, which has made Texas a donor state, is no longer serving the best interests of each state and its motorists. Our national transportation mission should evolve to maintaining and improving infrastructure," said Sen. Hutchison.

Last month, Sen. Hutchison introduced the Highway Fairness and Reform Act of 2009, S. 903, which would give states the option to opt out of federal highway program, which doles out funding on a revenue-sharing basis.

Instead, opt-out states would receive a rebate on federal fuel taxes collected in their states. The bill is designed to ensure a dollar for dollar return on gas tax revenue generated by a state.

In 2007, Sen. Hutchison successfully passed legislation that prohibits the tolling of existing federal highways built with taxpayer dollars in Texas. Sen. Hutchison's amendment passed and was signed into law as part of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2008 THUD Appropriations bill. The Senate extended the provision through September 30, 2009.

Sen. Hutchison has been working to prohibit this form of double taxation since 2005, when she introduced a similar tolling prohibition amendment to the Senate version of the Safe Accountable Flexible Efficient Transportation Equity Act: a Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU).

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