Tolls a good way to fund roads

My letter to the editor in the Beaver County Times & Allegheny Times Online:

The May 21 editorial on the Pennsylvania Turnpike lease calling Interstate
80 drivers/rural parts of the state “welfare queens” for wanting to avoid tolls
on roads ignores a couple of critical facts.

First, under the proposed turnpike lease, tolls would be limited to equal to, or less than, what has already been planned by the Turnpike Commission — though current laws provides no limits on increases. In other words, the editorial argues for higher tolls on turnpike drivers, so long as drivers on other roads pay more, rather than lower tolls across the state.

Second, it ignored that I-80 drivers continue to pay the state and federal gasoline tax — which has been used to build and repair I-80. While the turnpike has always been a toll road — and was constructed and repaired with toll revenue (or debt tied to tolls) — I-80 and other roads were not. Turnpike motorists should expect a higher level of service concomitant with their tolls (though it dubious that the Turnpike Commission has fulfilled this expectation).

Funding transportation through tolls — particularly on limited-access highways — is a good model, as it provides a more accurate “user fee” than fuel taxes and motorist fees. However, tolls on currently “free” (i.e. paid for with taxes) should be offset by a reduction in fuel taxes and motorist fees.

Furthermore, if I-80 or other roads are to be tolled, they should also be subject to competitive bidding, rather than turned over to the inefficient Turnpike Commission, to ensure the best deal for motorists and taxpayers.