WASHINGTON — Tolls are increasingly being diverted to pay for transportation projects and other expenses unrelated to roads, bridges and tunnels used by the motorists who pay the fees, the nation’s largest auto club said Wednesday.
The diversion of tolls for unrelated projects undermines the “user pays” principle behind transportation tolls and weakens public support for them, Chris Plaushin, the director of federal relations for AAA, told a hearing of the highway subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
A bill introduced by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., the subcommittee chairman, would give the secretary of transportation the power to reject toll increases on highways and bridges that receive federal aid if they are judged to be excessive.
Plaushin and a trucking official said they support the bill, but an official representing state departments of transportation expressed concern that it would hinder the ability of states to pay for transportation needs.
Federal and state gas and diesel taxes have paid for the bulk of highway costs since construction of the interstate highway system began in the 1950s, but Congress hasn’t raised the 18.4-cents-a-gallon federal gas tax in nearly two decades.
Raising fuel taxes is politically unpalatable, so states are increasingly turning to tolls to pay for upkeep.
“We’re not anti-tolling, but we think some accountability in the process is needed,” Plaushin said.