Any toll facility using Federal funds must qualify for toll authority under one of four toll programs.
Toll pilot programs have limited participation and require toll agreements prior to the implementation of tolling. Mainstream toll programs do not require tolling agreements and have unlimited participation.
The use of toll revenue is restricted under all of the Federal programs, and is generally limited to the repayment of financing for the project and for operations and maintenance. Revenues may also be used for other eligible purposes in some circumstances.
Under Title 23 of the United States Code (Highways), there is a general prohibition on the imposition of tolls on Federal-aid highways. However, Title 23 and other statutes have also carved out certain exceptions to this general prohibition through special programs and provisions. The goal of some of these programs is to allow tolling to generate revenue to support highway construction activities and the goal of others is to enable the use of road pricing for congestion management, although congestion pricing and construction is allowed under all programs.
Darren Timothy, Ph.D.
FHWA Office of Innovative Program Delivery
Under the General Toll Program, Congress permits Federal participation in certain types of toll-financed construction activities, including new highways; new lanes added to existing highways (so long as the number of existing toll-free lanes is not reduced); reconstruction of non-Interstate highways; reconstruction or replacement of bridges or tunnels; and capital improvements to existing toll facilities. There are no restrictions on the number of projects or States that may receive tolling authority under this section.
The ISRRPP allows the conversion of free Interstate highways into toll facilities in conjunction with needed reconstruction or rehabilitation that is only possible with the collection of tolls. Congress has authorized up to three slots in the program, which must be used for projects in different states.
Section 166(c) of Title 23 provides authority for public agencies to allow toll-paying vehicles that do not meet the minimum occupancy standards to use high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes. Such lanes are commonly referred to as high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes. This tolling authority is available for facilities both on and off the Interstate System. There are no restrictions on the number of projects or States that may receive tolling authority under this section.
The VPPP is an experimental program that is designed to assess the potential of different value pricing approaches for reducing congestion. Under this program, tolls may be imposed on existing toll-free highways, bridges, and tunnels, so long as variable pricing is used to manage demand. Congress has authorized slots for up to 15 value pricing programs, which are allocated to state or local agencies. Once an agency holds a slot, there is no limit on the number of value pricing projects that can be implemented under that slot.
The Federal tolling programs also come with restrictions on the use of toll revenues generated by the facilities that receive tolling authority. In general, the programs allow toll revenue to be used for debt service; to provide a reasonable return on investment to any private party financing a project; for the operations and maintenance (including capital improvements) of the toll facility; and payments between public and private partners involved in a public-private partnership. If the public authority with responsibility for the toll facility certifies that facility is being adequately maintained, then toll revenues may also be used for other purposes eligible under Title 23 (such uses are not permitted under the ISRRPP). Toll facilities must also undergo annual audits to ensure compliance with the limitations on the use of revenue, the results of which must be transmitted to FHWA.
Section 166 also has a number of performance requirements that apply to HOT lanes, including the enforcement of HOV restrictions; automatic collection of tolls (which must be varied in order to manage demand on the HOV facility); and requirements to ensure that the operational performance of the HOT lanes does not become degraded. The VPPP requires that project sponsors monitor a number of project performance indicators for a period of at least 10 years, and that this data be compiled by FHWA for biennial reports to Congress.
The two pilot programs (ISRRPP and VPPP) also require project sponsors to submit an application and to execute a toll agreement with the FHWA in order to receive authorization to impose tolls under those programs.
More information on these Federal tolling programs and the Expression of Interest can be found at http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/ipd/revenue/road_pricing/tolling_pricing/.