Replace the Gas Tax — with Tolls
There’s a much more sensible, efficient way to make sure road users pay.


Michael Barone

Poole proposes that limited-access highways — interstates and expressways — be funded by tolls. He would leave local streets and rural roads to be funded by states and localities.

The technology is available. Transponders are used to assess tolls today in California’s Orange County, Dallas County in Texas, and Northern Virginia. The charges go to your credit card, and you hardly have to slow down through the toll plaza.

Computer-generated tolls are a superior form of user fee. They tie revenues to the highways in proportion to their use, and can be adjusted to reflect the cost of maintenance and improvements.

Per-mile tolling also would eliminate the use of federal-gas-tax funds for ancillary forms of transportation — subways, light rail, bike paths and trails — which have been gobbling up revenue needed for highways. States and localities valuing such amenities could pay for them.

Tolling would also pay for proper ongoing maintenance. Too often that is left unfunded by local officials or congressmen eager to cut ribbons on new projects.

In addition, per-mile tolling would enable public-private partnerships or private firms to fund construction or operations by borrowing in bond markets instead of paying for future needs out of current funds.

That’s already happening too: The Canadian government is funding the new Detroit River bridge through a public-private partnership.

Private firms would have an incentive to keep roads in good shape. Otherwise, traffic and toll revenues would decline and profits would disappear. And per-mile tolling can also reduce traffic congestion by varying fees according to usage or time of day.

The gas tax worked tolerably well for nine decades. But technological progress, behavioral change, and government mandates have rendered it obsolete.

It’s time to pay for highways not at the gas pump but through the transponder.

— Michael Barone is senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner. © 2014 The Washington Examiner. Distributed by