On Monday, President Donald Trump released his long-awaited $1.5 trillion infrastructure proposal. It seeks to leverage $200 billion in direct federal spending over the next decade into an additional $1.3 trillion by relying on state and local tax dollars, as well as private investment. But there’s a little caveat that is raising eyebrows and is sure to spark national outrage.
With not enough tax revenue after his massive tax cuts to corporations, the president wants to attract private investors to finance infrastructure projects by letting them turn highways into toll roads, The Huffington Post reports.
Trump’s infrastructure plan would give states more flexibility to toll existing interstate highways ― under the rationale that if you use a road, you ought to pay a price in order to maintain it.
“Tolling restrictions foreclose what might otherwise serve as a major source of revenue for infrastructure investment,” Trump’s plan reads. “Providing states flexibility to toll existing Interstates would generate additional revenues for states to invest in surface transportation infrastructure.”
Congress banned tolling on interstate highways in 1956 when it created the national highway system during Dwight D. Eisenhower’s administration. Lawmakers have steadily chipped away at the restrictions since then, and tolls on interstates are now allowed in certain states in priority lanes.
Adding fees on existing highways isn’t exactly a popular move, however. A statewide push to privatize highways in Texas suffered a backlash from angry commuters, who complained about exorbitant late fees and costly toll bills. In December, the state’s transportation officials voted against constructing new toll roads after opposition from Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R).
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) blasted the idea of expanding the use of tolls on highways across the country.
“The president’s infrastructure proposal would do very little to make our ailing infrastructure better, but would put unsustainable burdens on our local government and lead to Trump tolls all over the country, all while undermining important protections like Buy America,” Schumer said in a statement. “It is a plan to appease his political allies, not to rebuild the country.”
Several Republicans in Congress are also opposed to the idea. Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, has said he prefers increasing the gas tax over adding tolls to highways.
“Tolls are a wildly inefficient tax, sacrificing money that could go toward construction to corporate profits and administrative costs,” Stephanie Kane, spokeswoman for the Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates, said in a statement. “In addition to the diversion onto secondary roads which causes congestion and public safety issues, tolls will do unimaginable harm to businesses, as shipping and manufacturing prices skyrocket to account for these new costs.”
Today, just 2,900 miles of the 46,730-mile federal Interstate Highway System includes toll booths, according to the Department of Transportation.