Infrastructure Bill Tries To Boost Number of Toll Roads While Exempting Almost All Drivers From Tolls

A new grant program that would help states set up privately operated toll roads would also forbid charging tolls to anyone making under $400,000 a year.


One consequence of Congress trying to do everything infrastructure-related in one big, hastily put-together bill is that many new programs are effectively designed to fail. For example: a program that tries to boost the number of privately operated toll roads in the country while also exempting almost all drivers from paying tolls.

Tucked inside the 2,700-page, $550 billion bill passed by the Senate last week is a program that would give states, localities, and other government bodies grants to assist them in leasing out their roads to private infrastructure companies.

The idea behind leasing out government roads would be to tap private capital, which could then pay for new infrastructure projects or fund the repair of existing aging assets. These asset concessions are common enough in Europe and Australia. Most state and local governments have little experience with them, however.

Enter the infrastructure bill's technical assistance grants. State, local, or tribal governments could receive up to $2 million to hire staff to work on concession agreements, identify assets that could be leased out, and solicit bids from private infrastructure firms.

This is one way states could rebuild an Interstate Highway System that's nearing the end of its useful life, says Robert Poole, director of transportation policy at the Reason Foundation (which publishes this website).

"There's no replacement federal program to do about what's estimated to be a $1 trillion rebuilding over the next twenty years. They're ideally situated for toll financing," says Poole. "You lease a non-tolled [road] with the idea that you charge tolls instead of the fuel taxes and finance the reconstruction and you get something good for another 50 or 75 years as the country keeps growing."

Tolling existing Interstate highway lanes is currently prohibited, so further reforms would be required before those could be leased out to private companies. But there is no such restriction on non-Interstate highways. That includes many urban highways that could be tolled to pay for repairs or cut down on congestion.

If a state wants to take advantage of these grants, though, it would have an impossible time finding an infrastructure company willing to lease their roads. Any concessionaire doing business with a government that has accepted one of these grants would be forbidden from charging tolls or other user fees on anyone making under $400,000 a year.

"You wouldn't have anywhere near the toll revenue stream that you'd need" to finance repairs or pay back investors, Poole says. He adds that there's no obvious way to determine a driver's income. "Cars just go driving through. How do you know the household income of any individual vehicle is? It's an unworkable idea, and it means that this whole program wouldn't get anywhere."

President Joe Biden has been adamant that he would not raises taxes on people earning under $400,000 a year. And as far as his administration is concerned, that includes user fees to fund infrastructure.

The limitation on tolling anyone making under $400,000 thus appears to be a political expediency added to the bill to either prevent objections from Biden and/or guard against Republican accusations that the bill increases taxes.

The upshot is that no government will actually make use of these technical grants. They would allow states to build capacity to make asset concession agreements, while also imposing a condition that would make those concession agreements unviable.

The House is currently considering the infrastructure bill, so there's still the chance that this provision could be amended. But the House Democrats' INVEST In America Act—passed earlier this year—was even more anti-tolling than what the Senate has passed. Those same Democrats are likely not that keen on making tolling easier now.

Poole says that the self-undermining asset concession program is just one example of a worrisome drift in transportation policy away from charging people for the infrastructure they use.

"Everything they're talking about in terms of additional infrastructure," says Poole. "It's all done with borrowed federal money instead of 'the user pays, the user benefits.' It's a very terrible direction for federal policy to be going in."

NEXT: If Texas Businesses Are Free To Require Face Masks, Why Can't They Require Proof of Vaccination?

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  1. Toll roads are racist. Prove me wrong.

    1. Only the “rich” will be able to use the roads.

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    2. They treat whites and blacks the same. Totally racist.

    3. Highway projects historically have destroyed and divided minority neighborhoods and caused additional pollution to those areas.

      1. They have also divided non minority neighborhoods. What’s your point?

  2. Brilliant plan for raising government revenue to meet the 12 trillion dollar spending plan:

    1. Raise taxes on anyone making over 400K.
    2. Unleash hyperinflation so anyone with a job makes over 400K.

    1. I laughed, until I realized you might be serious.

      1. Give it a few years.
        I noticed that the 3K annual capital loss carry forward limit hasn’t changed in my lifetime.

        1. Makes sense. Capital loss deductions are used only by the super rich.

  3. Toll passes will be required to determine if the driver makes the requisite salary to be tolled or to pass free. And, of course, not to track the comings and goings on those toll roads of passengers. Also, not to turn off your required electric vehicle when you have gone past your allotted mileage, or to calculate the extra use fee, tabulated monthly, once that introductory, toll free rate expires. Finally, no recurring government positions will grow exponentially from this new way of traveling.

    1. Don’t forget that you are only allowed to drive 3 days a week. And since your car will check if you are inebriated first, it already has the remote “Off” switch for the CCC staffers to activate.

      1. Hush. I’m sure it’s all for our own good.

    2. I mean, this isn’t that hard. Almost every toll road I have been on for the past 5 years is fully automated- you get an account and link it to your car.

      So the idea that the Toll Road doesn’t know you or your income is silly. That is a minor rounding error in the problems with this bill.

      1. Almost every toll road I have been on for the past 5 years is fully automated- you get an account and link it to your car.

        A bit to Mr. Wales’ point; you don’t need to get an account and link it to your car for it to be automated. Drive through one without a link, the bill will still show up at the registered vehicle owner’s house.

        1. True. What follows after the initial tracking is the unintended consequence (feature) of the scopecreep. Maybe more of a drift as we transition.

      2. It knows you. How does it know your income?

        1. The government already knows your income, this just requires one government system to talk to another government system

          1. 2 trillion dollars later…

            The systems crash repeatedly but we got them talking.

            1. And the jobs we created!

            2. 2 trillion dollars after that…

              Old lady driving a ’76 Buick with the wrong plates will get hauled out of her car at gunpoint while the mass murderer who beheaded 6 people got through the tollnet because some antiquated local systems don’t update the larger network fast enough.

          2. There are a lot of laws forbidding that kind of mass info transfer.

            1. You mean like the 3rd and 5th Am. that prevent the government from seizing property and housing people? Like habeas corpus, the 14th Am. and a mountain of medical ethics that prevents people from being directly or indirectly ‘coerced’ into government experiments?

              Just paper.

              1. They get away with random abuses here and there, or systemically if they keep mum, as the NSA et all sometimes remember to do. But for a toll system to do it like this, it would have to be public knowledge — baked in, as they say. People would scream bloody murder.

                1. People would scream bloody murder.

                  You mean the way Reason screamed bloody murder as theaters, bars, restaurants, churches, mom-and-pop businesses, schools, farmer’s markets, Easters, Thanksgivings, Xmases, etc., etc., etc. were systematically shut down?

                  If that’s any example, the information transfer would be proposed for a two week period, get extended to 18 mos. and *then* Reason and the like-minded would vaguely remember that *some* of it might be unconstitutional (while assuring us that the vaccines are a good idea and compliance really is the best option).

                  Nobody would care about the rights violations. Nobody would care about the bodies piling up. It wouldn’t be until the guy in charge smacked the wrong assistant’s ass that people would care and, even then, they still wouldn’t care about the rights violations or the pile of bodies.

              2. I’m thinking 4th Amendment “papers and effects”. The metropolitan transit authority has authority for dealing with transit in the metro area, not for raiding my IRS files.

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        2. If I make too much money, I will just borrow a poor person’s car, and send him or her a kickback, whenever I drive it.

          Problem solved!

          1. Facial recognition. How does a sqrl hide his nut crusted cheeks?

            1. Big Brother will put cameras in all of our cars?!?! Oy vey!

              Time to buy me a Donald Trump mask!

          2. You can call your system “Uber”. Will the government check the income of the Uber passenger when setting the toll?

        3. Easy: you have to submit a copy of your tax returns to opt out of the charges.

      3. So the chauffer gets a pass to drive the boss in the back seat for free? Sounds like it’s Koch approved.

  4. >You lease a non-tolled [road] with the idea that you charge tolls instead of the fuel taxes

    Yeah, sure. Instead of.

    1. Are libertarians really that naive?

      1. This generation of Reason writers are slow enough to chase that….

    2. What are you implying?

  5. They will also no doubt have lower tolls (or lower mileage taxes) on people driving electric cars (who tend to be wealthier) because they are “saving the climate”.

    1. As long as they don’t recharge them between 4 and 9 PM, when renewable energy is “less available”, to help “Keep California Golden”.

      1. The renewable energy isn’t a problem for the Tesla crowd. They’ll just need to fire up the generator and they’re good to go.

  6. If tolls are going to pay for the roads, then why do we need to spend an additional $4 trillion on them?

    1. IMHO, tolls should be used to fund ongoing maintenance. I don’t think you’re going to be able to cover construction with them.

      1. Define ‘cover’. IL will gladly use the toll money to cover the loan on union construction costs.

        1. Well, I want to contest the statement: “…many new programs are effectively designed to fail.”

          Tha fuck? The appropriated money will be successfully made available as a slush fund for favored politicians to spread to their bestest friends, relatives and campaign contributors. Jobs created will 100% be found within a 50 mile radius of the state capitol, and not in the poor neighborhoods either. Though nobody seem to have cared when that was the case with the so much of the trillions distributed in the War on Poverty.

          So, success! Just like 20 years worth of expenditures represent success in our grifting…errr…our reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan.

    2. Someone has to pay the CCC bureaucrats to determine which cars and which drivers get how much scaled exemptions on the tolls and mileage taxes based on how much their car pollutes, how much it weighs, how much it cost, how old it is, and how much the driver earns. These critical calculations don’t pay for themselves.

      1. vax/no vax, wearing a MAGA hat (domestic terrorism adjacent), and Facebook/Google/Twitter “misinformation and hate speech score”.

        It’ll be complicated to get it to do what they’ll want.

  7. a program that would give states, localities, and other government bodies grants to assist them in leasing out their roads to private infrastructure companies.

    Just like Trump, but the Dems went apeshit when he proposed it.

    1. Sleepy Joe doesn’t have to worry about the plagiarization of an idea if the media won’t report it was Trump’s idea in the first place.

  8. I’m confused, I make over $400,000/yr. will my driver have to pay tolls or not?

    1. It depends- did you make 400,000/yr while working from home? Do you have a link to where I can learn more?

      1. I understand Shop-Rite is hiring.

  9. >> The idea behind leasing out government roads would be to tap …

    our fine Sicilian entrepreneurial outfits

  10. Tell me why this is a bad idea:

    Vaccine checks at toll points? No vaccine, no travel through a toll checkpoint.

    Cogent arguments as to why that’s a bad idea. Go.

    1. What if I’m rushing to a polling center on election day?

      1. All the more reason to keep your Trump-voting, anti-vax, anti-science ass out of public life.


        1. Because that means those scum are still loose in America free to walk to a store I maybe at?

        2. But isn’t it racist to ask for identification in relation to voting?

          1. Yes. But demanding vaccine proof isn’t.

            1. Minorities are disproportionately impacted. Racist.

      2. No worries, a helpful CCC or USPS employee in a low-emission electric vehicle will harvest your ballot for you, and make sure it is properly filled out.

      3. Pro-rated depending on how many ballots you have in the vehicle.

    2. Vaccine checks at toll points? No vaccine, no travel through a toll checkpoint.

      Why stop at only vaccine-preventable diseases? HIV positive? Think globally, act locally, homo. Obese? Try walking fatty.

      1. Good point.
        The gov can know income
        Gender designation from license
        Breathalyzer for inebriation or whatever features are deemed acceptable to add and analyze.
        How about a blood prick before driving?

    3. Because there are no longer manned toll booths?

      1. Which run on RFID. How do you get an RFID toll pass? Perhaps there’s some agency you have to appeal to, send a payment to… maybe the process begins there.

        1. The process starts at the DMV. Can’t get an I-Pass/EZPass/SunPass/other* without a license, registration, and VIN.

          RFID tolls aren’t any good on cars that don’t have RFID tags. License plate readers are used to solve that issue.

          *I know for I-Pass and EZPass, I assume others are same.

          1. If you need ID , it’s racist.

            1. It’s clearly a driver-suppression effort.

          2. Any car that passed through an RFID toll that didn’t have an RFID pass, gets a visit from the police. They must show vaccine proof at that time. No vaccine proof, off to jail. This isn’t as hard as everyone makes it out to be.

            1. Just make vaccinations mandatory to get a license.

              Maybe I’m not generating enough jobs.

          3. You buy Sun Pass at the drug store or convenience store etc. You step out side and use the app to link the id number to the license plate.
            No one ever expects the DMV employees to do any actual work.

            1. It’s similar with I-Pass. You can get it at your local grocery store, but you need a license plate/registration and/or VIN, otherwise, no point in buying one.

              1. but you need a license plate/registration and/or VIN

                Sorry, I guess that wasn’t clear, you don’t need a license plate to buy one but if you don’t have a license plate and VIN, there’s no reason to buy one as you can’t register/activate it.

                1. When Reason is successful at imposing vehicle tolls on the nation the Institute will start promoting pedestrian tolls.

            2. The closer they get to 0 actual work, the quicker you can get in and out, though.

    4. When the toll road is leased out to a private company, Reason can scold us when we complain about them checking your vaccine passport — it’s not the government!

  11. See? Democrats are willing to privatize infrastructure.

    What? No private companies want to take it on? Guess we better pass another few trillion dollars in infrastructure funding since the private sector can’t handle it

  12. Well, a small part of those grants can go to creating the links between the IRS and the private toll companies and the banks. Why do you think the dems want all those extra IRS agents? They will pinky swear that the cross references will only be used for toll compliance, not stalking.

    1. After furtherer reflection, the above solution does not really accomplish the actual goal.
      What is needed is facial recognition scanners to determine the actual driver, not just the registered owner. That way we can get everyone into the data base. Then a national face data base, cross linked to voter registration, to eliminate the need for a photo id; just look up the voter on the toll data base. And now we know who, and where they bank, we can do a side lookup and just shut down those pesky republicans.
      Three for the price of one; win-win-win.

  13. So if I make over 400k a year does that mean I just pay someone else 20k per year to drive me on the toll roads, and then they don’t have to pay the tolls?

    1. Your Uber rating must be like 6 stars.

  14. Wait, I thought the “you didn’t build that” argument centered around the idea that roads and cops and all that shit you love about society was funded by the state (to be distinguished, say, from the individual tax payer via the state). Now you’re telling me that the individual tax payer is going to pay for that too?

    1. We already do
      Often twice.

  15. What’s next, armbands and tattoos for all cisgender, straight white men and women making over 400k? Why not ban them from purchasing private transportation altogether- for the children

  16. Toll roads can exist but you u cannot charge people making less than $400k?

    I can only conclude that our political class has completely lost touch with reality if this was a serious suggestion and still in the bill. They are just making stuff without consideration about whether it is practical to implement or trying to hide from the public the truth behind implausible fig leaves.

  17. *checks site address*
    Nope, not the Onion. Not the Bee.
    Oh well, I’ll go ask Alice.

  18. I suspect that the 400k is just the entry level limit to get the proles to accept it. Give it a year. Once they tie it into the social credit score they can have lots of fun.

  19. Isn’t asking how much money I earn when I’m driving around on public roadways an unconstitutional invasion of my privacy?

    I can see why I might need to tell the IRS my income when filing for how much tax I owe or how big my refund should be, but I can’t think of any valid reason to tell the local transit authority.

    1. Isn’t asking how much money I earn when I’m driving around on public roadways an unconstitutional invasion of my privacy?

      What part of *privatized tollways* do you not understand?

  20. “How do you know the household income of any individual vehicle is?”

    Shirley you just force owners who earn over 400k to put a symbol (perhaps a pink triangle or a green $) on their number plate so the auto scanners can see it.

    Do I have to do all the thinking for your govt?

    1. Stop calling me Shirley.

  21. 1. $1 T over 20 years is $50 B per year. That sounds like a reasonable investment.
    2. Gas taxes are better. Easier to collect and incentivize those who use less gas in the process.

    1. Gas taxes don’t send price signals to avoid congestion. Tolls can vary by time of day and segment of road, so they can communicate scarcity so highway resources are more efficiently allocated.

  22. Mexicans, check
    Buttsex, check
    Legal dope, check
    Toll roads? The last libertarian frontier.

  23. Dear States,

    Those aren’t your roads; those are Nazi-Roads……………….
    def; National Socialists Roads.

  24. Just wondering how unworkable it is to charge tolls according to income. Why not charge every vehicle the standard rate but allow lower income drivers to apply for discount passes by providing documentation?

  25. “a program that tries to boost the number of privately operated toll roads in the country while also exempting almost all drivers from paying tolls.”

    Or just as probable to me is that it was designed to fail. This provides a claim that private toll roads do not work.

  26. “Tolling existing Interstate highway lanes is currently prohibited….”

    Really? Then why do we have the Pennsylvania Turnpike? Ohio turnpike? New York State Thruway?

    1. Better stated as “Adding more toll stations to existing Interstate highway lanes is currently prohibited.” Even then though, you still have a point about the narrowness of the definition; existing tolls can be raised and any exit from an interstate to a state or county road can have a toll station put on it relatively whimsically. The Illinois Tollway has 5 toll roads that cover 6 interstates and one state road. You used to be able to hop off an exit, drive past the toll, and then hop back on in a number of places, but that number is dwindling.

    2. Those were built before the Interstate Highway System, and their tolls were grandfathered in.

  27. I’m sure the SEIU will organize those sitting in booths not taking tolls.
    And I’m sure those non-tool takers will vote D.

    1. Who cares how they vote, their union dues get redirected to the Dem party campaign fund once SEIU kicks up to AFL-CIO, so they’re going to become donors whether they like it or not.

  28. Do people that make over $400,000 a year even use ground transportation? Wouldn’t they just use a light aircraft?

  29. So now government need the private sector to backdoor their promises to not tax people for using the roads?

  30. I suspect that the 400k is just the entry level limit to get the proles to accept it. Give it a year. Once they tie it into the social credit score they can have lots of fun.
    You Can Check

  31. Portland Oregon is making the same mistake in its demand-sensitive tolling. They’re going to exempt low-income drivers who are most responsive to price, so how much do you suppose congestion will be alleviated?

    The best solution is to make tolls universal, no exceptions. If politicians must do something for the poor, then reduce (regressive) gas taxes in the region enough to make the whole program revenue neutral.

    Then, as a bonus, the dollar signs would be wiped from politicians’ eyes so they might not screw it up in other ways.

  32. PA did this with its Turnpike. tge NE Extension condition was bad to begin with, but coming back after 12 years I wasn’t that surprised that its new managers were able to make things worse. Stupid idea…

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