Despite calls for increased spending on federal infrastructure from economists, civil engineers, municipal planners and others, Congress has for years delayed taking serious steps to address to keep infrastructure funding at levels that meet the country’s future needs. One of the side-effects of that, according to the Brookings Institution, is a notable increase in the number of toll roads in the U.S.
According to an analysis by Joseph Kane and Patrick Sabol, both senior policy research assistants at Brookings, and Robert Puentes, a senior fellow in its Metropolitan Policy Program, the construction of new toll roads has proceeded at twice the pace of the construction of non- toll roads in recent years, extending a trend that goes back more than a decade.
Between 2011 and 2013, the U.S. added 350 miles of toll roads, both interstate and non-interstate, representing a 7 percent increase in tolled roadways. Over the same time period, the growth in all roadway mileage in the country increased by only 3.6 percent. Tolled roads accounted for about 5,400 miles of U.S. roads in 2013.
The trend dates to at least 2003. Since then, the mileage of tolled roads in the U.S. has jumped by 15.1 percent. The Brookings paper suggests that in the near future, an increase in tolled roadways might be accelerated not just by adding new construction, but by converting non-toll roads into tolled highways.
“Over time, tolls are becoming a fixture across many regions, especially as federal policymakers are reluctant to raise general revenue to pay for transportation projects,” the authors write. “Whether tolls continue to gain traction remains to be seen, but a recent proposal from the White House figures to shine even more light on the issue by lifting the ban on tolls for existing highways—and allowing for more experimentation at the state level. Amidst federal dysfunction, every financing option appears to be on the table to repair the country’s infrastructure, and tolls are likely to be one of many possibilities attracting attention in the months to come.”
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