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Trump’s Budget Calls for Tolling, Rest Area Commercialization

Administration’s 2018 budget proposal would ‘liberalize’ current tolling policy and allow private investment in rest areas.
May 25, 2017

​WASHINGTON – This week the Trump administration released its 2018 budget proposal, which includes recommendations to change federal law on current tolling policy and allow for private investment in rest areas.

The White House fact sheet on the budget proposal states: “Tolling is generally restricted on Interstate highways. This restriction prevents public and private investment in such facilities. We should reduce this restriction and allow the states to assess their transportation needs and weigh the relative merits of tolling assets. The administration also supports allowing the private sector to construct, operate, and maintain Interstate rest areas, which are often overburden[ed] and inadequately maintained.”

Although Congress passed the 5-year, $305 billion highway bill in late 2015, state departments of transportation continue searching for ways to increase highway investment, including revenue schemes that the federal government is prohibited from implementing, such as tolling and the sale of fuel or other commercial services at rest areas, known as rest area commercialization. Because truckstops and travel plazas typically are located within one-quarter mile of an Interstate exit, such revenue schemes would severely damage the nation’s truckstop and travel plaza industry by putting exit-based businesses at a competitive disadvantage.  Convenience retailers located near an interstate exit would face similar issues.

The Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates (ATFI), of which NACS is a member, is communicating to members of Congress its opposition to Trump’s 2018 budget in respect to tolling:

“ATFI members have serious reservations about the potential for over-reliance on private investment to fund improvements to our highway infrastructure; such scenarios invariably lead to functional monopolies that subject users to exorbitant, regressive tolling rates. Moreover, private investment in infrastructure is not the panacea it is often touted to be, as self-interested private corporations would only focus on our most profitable (i.e. urban area) projects and leave rural states out in the cold. Finally, it would result in a windfall for companies participating in projects that would occur anyway, misdirecting much-needed funds away from deserving projects in other, often overlooked parts of the country.”

While policymakers may believe that rest area commercialization would be an easy way for states to generate revenue, the fact is that it would jeopardize private businesses that for the last 50-plus years have operated under the current law and established locations at the highway exits. Due to their advantageous locations, state-owned commercial rest areas establish virtual monopolies on the sale of services to highway travelers.

NACS continues to urge that Congress maintains the current prohibition on rest area commercialization, and that Congress must reject any attempt to weaken existing law on tolling existing federal highways. “While our industry supports having a well-maintained interstate highways system and investing in new infrastructure, we do not believe that tolling existing federal highways and commercializing rest stop areas is the answer,” said Paige Anderson, director of government relations at NACS. in response to the release of the Trump FY 2018 budget. “These recommendations have been debated in the past and were opposed by Congress, and we urge current congressional leaders to reject these proposals.”

NACS is part of a broad coalition of organizations that oppose rest area commercialization, including NATSO, which represents truckstops and travel centers and founded the coalition. Rest area commercialization transfers the point of sale away from the current competitive environment at highway exits to the sole business contractor that pays the largest amount to rent the location on the shoulder of the highway.

As more on this issue develops, NACS will update members via NACS Daily and through calls to action. If you would like more information, contact NACS Government Relations Director Paige Anderson at panderson@convenience.org.