New ways to finance transportation through tolling existing highways - Metropolitan Planning Council

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New ways to finance transportation through tolling existing highways

Flickr user scot63us.

Tolling existing highway capacity could be one way of increasing revenue for needed infrastructure repair.

Though the U.S. Interstate Highway Act was passed almost 60 years ago, the financing mechanism by which the nation’s most important roadways are built and maintained has remained largely the same. The federal and state governments collect user fees from motorists through fuel taxes and then distribute those funds to infrastructure investments.

Unfortunately, years of declining vehicle miles travelled, better fuel efficiency and the failure of political actors to win consensus around increasing fuel taxes has resulted in declining funds for transportation. The Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) advocates for a constructive discussion on identifying new funds for highway and public transportation investments, but it has also been working to develop new innovative financing programs that move away from traditional forms of transportation revenues.

Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Mark Warner (D-Vir.) introduced a bipartisan bill last week called the Highway Innovation Act of 2014 that would advance one such innovative financing program.

If passed, the act would increase the flexibility of states to toll their Interstate Highways, a funding strategy that is mostly banned under current law. Specifically, the bill would expand the Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program (ISRRPP), which allows states to toll existing interstate facilities. Currently, the law only allows three states (Missouri, North Carolina and Virginia) to toll such roads, but the Kirk and Warner bill would increase the pilot to 10 states.

The bill also would expand the Value Pricing Pilot Program (VPPP) from 15 states to all states. VPPP was initially established in 1991 and allows states to use congestion pricing strategies on their roads. Minnesota used VPPP to convert nine miles of underutilized carpool lanes on I-394 to toll lanes in 2005; the project has been so successful that the financing strategy was extended to another highway, I-35W.

For several years, MPC has been engaging with local, state and federal officials to advance similar reforms, as they will increase the capacity of the Chicago region to address its critical transportation needs. The Kirk and Warner bill is an important step forward in encouraging this process.


  1. 1. Rob Rion on March 7, 2014

    Tolling interstate highways is not a good solution. People will just use a non-tolled parallel highway. It is also politically doa to most voters and politicians. A better solution would be to adopt Vehicle Miles Traveled. There is a a big backlash against the idea to toll the existing of rte 53 north of I90 now to pay for rt 53 expansion

  2. 2. Chrissy Mancini from United States on March 11, 2014

    As evidenced in the blog, in cities such as Minneapolis, (and San Diego, and Miami), that were able to implement congestion pricing and tolling under the federal pilot, drivers have shown to be willing to pay the toll and importantly some of the tolling revenues were used to fund transit, granting more transportation options to commuters. In 2011 the Illinois Tollway raised tolls for the first time in decades with little decline in passenger vehicle traffic. People want to travel the quickest, most efficient way and have shown to be willing to pay for that convenience.

    The highway trust fund is bankrupt. Motorists are paying less in gas taxes as a percent of their income than two decades ago. A vehicle miles traveled tax is a long-term solution to transportation funding, but tolling is another important tool that's been used successfully around the country.

  3. 3. John Lynch from Virgina on April 27, 2014

    Tolling of existing interstates is short-sighted given the huge inefficiencies associated with tolling. San Diego and Miami have HOT lanes as does Northern VA but those involve tolling new capacity or converting existing HOV lanes into tolled HOT lanes. Hence the existing interstates weren't tolled. VA and North Carolina hold two of the three pilot program slots and in 2013 both states enacted laws essentially banning tolls on existing interstates. Those voters recognized what a bad idea tolls on existing interstates, as do those shippers, truckers, and citizens that have banded together to create the Alliance for Toll Free Interstates (

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