Secretary LaHood Talks Up Toll Finance

U.S Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood had a lot of positive things to say on his blog yesterday on North Carolina’s new Triange Expressway toll road project, and along the way he offered a compelling argument—as Reason has long argued—that tolling offers states a way to finance and develop new transportation capacity amid growing highway funding shortfalls. From LaHood’s blog post:

The Triangle Expressway (TriEX) is a controlled-access 18.8-mile toll road from Research Triangle Park to Holly Springs designed to save commuters about 20 minutes per trip. But it’s not just another highway.

This project will be designed and built to use an all-electronic toll collection system. There will be no toll booths and no stopping to pay tolls. Customers purchase a transponder that automatically charges for road use. If you don’t have a transponder, overhead high-speed cameras can snap an image of your license plate and drivers will be billed according to the number of miles driven. […]

Another novel idea used by the Turnpike Authority has been its creative approach to financing. With gas and tax revenues declining and North Carolina’s population exploding, North Carolina will fall billions short of the revenue needed for roads, bridges and transit over the next 25 years. So the state has had no choice but to search for alternative financing sources to build transportation infrastructure. In this case, the state used $270 million in toll-revenue bonds and $353 million in Build America bonds. DOT supplied the remaining financing of $386 million in TIFIA loans.

Financing new projects with toll-backed securities allows bonds to be issued to finance new transportation infrastructure decades sooner than otherwise possible. Toll financing is based on user fees and requires no increase in taxes and actually frees existing resources for use on other transportation projects. The folks who pay for the road are the folks who use the road.

Another benefit? According to the News & Observer, “The project will support an estimated 13,800 construction-related jobs over the next 42 months.” A related article in the News & Observer says many of those jobs will got to workers “who have been unemployed for months.”

The Turnpike Authority worked closely with local planning organizations, the NCDOT, transportation advocacy groups, local chambers of commerce, and local and state elected officials to ensure full public participation through every step of the planning, design and engineering process. That’s the kind of stakeholder collaboration that leads to a successful project.

Reason Foundation’s Transportation Research and Commentary