Senate Creates New Roadblock To Managing Congestion

An obscure, little noticed amendment by Senator John Warner (R-VA) to the Senate transportation bill, "SAFETEA", would curb state's flexibility of using tolls on existing lanes to better manage traffic and improve public transportation. The amendment, quietly added without debate on March 16, 2005, strikes a provision that was supported by road construction, transit and environmental interests, but opposed by the American Trucking Associations.

"By excising three words and a comma, this well-cloaked amendment transformed a widely supported, carefully balanced tolling provision into a recipe for creating more traffic and less public transportation, more pollution and less public health protection," said Michael Replogle, transportation director for Environmental Defense. "Today we are withdrawing our support for the Senate tolling provision because it now includes language that restricts tolling to only new road lanes."

Barring tolling on existing roads hurts communities without the desire or room to add new lanes but that need better traffic management and funding for transit. The proposal would also cause many new toll lane projects to move to the front of the line to soak up scarce public funds for transportation investment that might better go to serve other local priorities, rather than subsidizing big new toll roads.

"In an open debate in the House, the proposal to put tolls only on new roads was overwhelmingly defeated and that same open debate should have occurred when the proposal was offered in the Senate," said Replogle. "By approving this proposal the Senate has missed an opportunity to use the cost effective and excellent tool of tolling to help curb congestion and air pollution."

On March 9, 2005 the House of Representatives considered and defeated 155-265 a proposal submitted by Rep. Mark Kennedy (R-MN) and promoted by the American Trucking Associations that would have allowed tolls only on new road lanes while barring tolls on existing lanes. That amendment was opposed by those seeking increased flexibility for states to toll both new and existing lanes for traffic management and revenue, including the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the American Road and Transportation Builders, the American Public Transportation Association and Environmental Defense.

"The House transportation bill, H.R. 3, now does less damage to environment and public health than the Senate bill on an array of matters – congestion pricing, clean air conformity, project review and planning rules and protection for parks," said Replogle.

H.R. 3 continues to authorize non-toll market incentives, such as Pay-As-You-Drive car insurance that can save consumers money while cutting traffic and pollution, guarantees these projects $3 million per year in pilot project funding and provides more overall funding ($15 million a year) for congestion pricing pilot projects. The Senate bill removes authority for non-toll market incentive pilot programs, funding only new toll road projects.

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