Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Taking on the toll-happy

In Massachusetts, a group of fed-up toll payers have filed a lawsuit demanding their money back. An anti-toll coalition in Pennsylvania is pressuring lawmakers to defeat the proposal to toll Interstate 80. And in Texas, an anti-toll group is rallying against legislation that would allow private companies to build and own toll roads for profit.

Fighting against excessive tolling is nothing new, and those are just the latest examples of taxpayers growing tired of digging deeper each year to drive.

OOIDA has led and been a part of many a fight against excessive tolling and privatized toll-road leases that leave highway users stuck with the bill.

Everybody wants good roads, and nobody disputes that good roads are expensive. If you ask people how they want their tax money spent, many will say police and fire protection, clean water, good schools for their children and good roads to drive on.

Unfortunately, lawmakers can’t always be trusted with the purse strings, as toll and tax revenue routinely get diverted to pet projects like museums, bike paths and beautification.

It’s no wonder then that most or all of the states that have toll roads also have grassroots organizations working to keep the governments and toll authorities in check.

I-80 in Pennsylvania was designed and constructed as a freeway paid for with federal and state tax money – as were most highways with interstate designation. Tolls on that highway would amount to double taxation for highway users, yet the state government set the table for tolls in the 2007 law known as Act 44. Luckily, the federal government has not signed off on the proposal and in fact rejected the application.

A state lawmaker, Rep. John Pallone, wants the application dusted off and resubmitted, but committed efforts by OOIDA and grassroots groups like the Alliance to Stop I-80 Tolls will make sure that lawmakers hear the other side.

The lawsuit in Massachusetts is interesting, too. A group of taxpayers contend that Massachusetts Turnpike tolls are unfair taxes and should be abolished because the revenue is siphoned away from turnpike operations to pay down mountains of debt incurred by the “Big Dig” tunnel project.

The attorney who filed the lawsuit is sure that small-business truckers have signed on to get their money back in Massachusetts.

The Lone Star State does everything big, and the effort against privately owned toll roads is no exception.

You may have heard of TURF, the Texans United for Reform and Freedom. TURF founder Terri Hall is a formidable campaigner against for-profit toll roads and the Texas land grab that was, or still may be, the Trans-Texas Corridor.

The American people deserve good highways and are willing to pay for them, and truckers are perhaps the strongest proponents of good roads. But those who make their living on the highways have made it clear that they do not want unfair diversion of toll revenue, double-dipping on interstate highways, or for-profit toll schemes.