There are No Free Rides

States rely heavily on the federal government to help pay for major transportation improvements. On a typical highway project, a state will usually provide a fifth of the funding and the federal government will pick up the rest, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts.

We all know there is less federal funding available these days, and therefore more pressure on the states to take on a larger share of the burden. This year, several states have passed gas tax increases and others are trying solutions, such as Public-Private Partnerships (P3s), to help rebuild roads and bridges.

A recent America THINKS survey by HNTB Corporation, shows that tolling is the number one preferred method Americans choose to generate funding for the nation’s transportation infrastructure. As the nation’s population continues to grow and traffic congestion increases, a solution to the decline of the gas tax is sorely needed.

According to the survey, when presented with a choice between tolls and other forms of transportation funding, 43% of Americans would be most willing to back more tolls rather than other forms of funding. Other forms of funding included public transportation fares (27%), sales tax (24%), gas tax (20%), vehicle registration fees (19%), property tax (10%), income tax (8%) and other (1%). Unfortunately, 21% of respondents said they were willing to choose to do “nothing” than spend more money on long-term transportation improvements.

It’s not surprising that tolling is more popular than increasing various types of taxes. Right now, there are 5,244 miles of toll roads in the U.S., operating in 35 states. People tend to like the concept of user fees that they pay only when using a road rather than paying a tax that goes to something they may not use. Individual support for tolling is directly linked to perceived benefit. For example, if a toll road noticeably alleviates congestion, the public is likely to be in favor of paying the fee.

I still believe raising the gas tax is the fastest way to generate and maintain funding. But if tolling is more popular with the public, perhaps states that don’t already use tolling should take a hard look at this option.

On a final note, I’d like to introduce our new assistant editor, Jessica Stoikes. She recently worked at Blain Supply, Inc. as a web content coordinator. If you have a paving or preservation project you would like profiled, or you just want to say “hi,” drop her an email at

Thanks for reading!