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early polling shows tolls on i-70 unpopular

early polling shows tolls on i-70 unpopular



Missouri voters won't support turning Interstate 70 into a toll road, according to a recent public opinion poll.

The poll, conducted by Kansas City-based Remington Research Group between Dec. 11 and Dec. 13, indicated that 59 percent of likely Missouri voters would oppose making the 200 or so miles of interstate between Kansas City and St. Louis a toll road.

The poll asked whether respondents support or oppose I-70 becoming a toll road. The results: 59 percent oppose the idea, 30 percent support it, and 11 percent have no opinion on the matter. In Kansas City, about 32 percent of those polled supported the idea. In St. Louis, only 27 percent support it.

Titus Bond, director of Remington Research Group, said the polling results are consistent with historic public sentiment toward toll roads.

"If it was ever put to a vote of the public in Missouri, it'd be overwhelmingly turned down," Bond said.

On Dec. 9, Gov. Jay Nixon asked the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission to draft a report exploring the possibility of establishing a toll road to pay for necessary improvements. A Missouri Department of Transportation report on the topic said repairs would cost $2 billion to $4 billion.

Bond said the unpopularity of the concept will keep high-profile politicians away from the toll road discussion. He said he'd be curious to see whether any of the state's congressional delegation weigh in on the idea.

The commission is due to present that report to Nixon by the end of the year. In August, Missouri's voters rejected a three-fourths-cent sales tax that would have gone toward funding the state's transportation infrastructure.

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electronic tolling is economic discrimination

electronic tolling is economic discrimination



Electronic tolling, as proposed in President Obama's highway funding plan, requires drivers to have transponders connected to a credit card or bank account. For America's 17 million unbanked households, this makes interstates travel a headache or impossible.


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indiana toll road operator facing debt woes

indiana toll road operator facing debt woes


A state agency says it is monitoring the Indiana Toll Road operator’s finances as it works to make an upcoming debt payment on the financing of its $3.8 billion lease payment to the state eight years ago.

The Indiana Toll Road Oversight Board has asked the Spanish-Australian investor group Cintra-Macquarie about the status of the payment it owes this month after state officials made similar inquiries after news reports that it was struggling last year to make an interest payment, board Director James McGoff told The Times of Munster.

“The answer is the same.” They are trying to negotiate more favorable terms with their lenders,” McGoff said.a

Cintra-Macquarie made the upfront payment of $3.8 billion to the state in 2006 for a 75-year lease of the highway that crosses Indiana’s northern counties, but its toll revenue since then hasn’t met expectations.

Paula Chirhart, a senior vice president for Macquarie Group Limited, declined comment on the consortium’s current financial situation.

The group’s Indiana Toll Road subsidiary turns an operating profit from tolls, but it has struggled under a debt load now calculated at $4.4 billion in the most recent annual report from Macquarie Atlas Roads. Some $3.9 billion of debt matures in 12 months and will have to be refinanced by June 2015, according to that report.

The ITR Concession Co. announced this month that the cost of driving on the highway is going up an average of 2.7 percent on July 1 for those without E-ZPass transponders.

Driving a car the full length of the toll road will be $10, up from the current $9.70. The toll for a typical five-axle semitrailer going the 157-mile length of the highway will be $39.70, up from its current $38.70. The annual increases are stipulated in the 2006 lease agreement.

The state has spent much of the lease money on highway projects, although $500 million was placed in an investment fund that collects interest to pay for future road construction.

Then-Gov. Mitch Daniels, who spearheaded the lease plan, said in 2011 that Cintra-Macquarie troubles showed that the state had hit the jackpot as the consortium “overpaid” for the lease.

McGoff said the lease agreement allows the state to potentially take the highway back over if the consortium misses its debt payments.

“If they default, the road comes back to us,” he said.

The Indiana Toll Road Oversight Board continues to monitor that the operator to make sure its meeting lease requirements that the highway is kept good repair.

“We are in constant communication to make sure the road is up to the same standards as INDOT maintains for all its roadways in the state,” McGoff said.

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drivers rack up $23.6m in debt at henry hudson bridge

drivers rack up $23.6m in debt at henry hudson bridge



Toll-dodging drivers on the Henry Hudson Bridge have racked up an eye-popping $23.6 million in debt between November 2012 through March 2014, The Journal News has learned.

That amount includes $2.2 million in actual tolls and $21.4 million in late fees and violation charges on top of that, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

In November 2012, the MTA eliminated cash lanes at the span to test all-electronic toll collection. Cameras at the toll plaza take photos of license plates as vehicles breeze through without stopping. For vehicles without E-ZPass, owners are mailed bills to the address listed on the vehicle's registration record. Each trip across the Henry Hudson, which connects the Bronx and Manhattan, is $5 without E-ZPass.

Of the $8.4 million in tolls billed by mail from November 2012 through March, the MTA has collected about 69 percent, said MTA Bridges and Tunnels Chief Financial Officer Donald Spero. It's unclear how many drivers are not receiving the bills, ignoring them or just confused about how the system works. Signs are posted near the bridge and the MTA allows people to pay by mail, online or over the phone.

During the same period, nearly $69.6 million in tolls was collected through E-ZPass at the bridge, compared with $5.7 million for tolls by mail.

If motorists don't pay mailed bills after 60 days, they are hit with a $50 violation for every unpaid trip, in addition to a $5 late fee and the original toll. Under current state law, toll authorities can only pursue long-standing unpaid tolls through debt-collection companies and civil litigation.

Over the past five years, drivers have failed to pay some $150 million in tolls across the state, officials say. And as toll agencies embrace new technology and phase out cash toll lanes to reduce congestion, toll agency leaders fear they could lose even more revenue.

Several times in the past year, state lawmakers have unsuccessfully pushed for legislation that would allow toll agencies and the Department of Motor Vehicles to suspend vehicle registrations of chronic offenders. In January, Gov. Andrew Cuomo included such legislation in his budget proposal, but it was dropped in the final budget deal.

"We will continue to work together with the Legislature to crack down on drivers who don't pay their fair share," said Karen Rae, deputy secretary to the governor for transportation.

Spero said in a statement that even though many motorists pay what they owe, "we believe that effective and efficient toll violation laws would deter toll evasion and enable agencies to collect tolls that are due.

Toll evaders are also big concern for the state Thruway Authority because it plans to use Tappan Zee Bridge toll revenue to pay for the $3.9 billion Tappan Zee replacement project. The current Tappan Zee is set for completely cashless tolling next year to ease traffic flow during construction of the new span. The new bridge is expected to have all-electronic toll collection.

"I'm going to do everything possible to make sure these tolls are as low as possible — that's why going after chronic toll evaders is an important piece," said state Sen. David Carlucci, D-New City.

Carlucci introduced a revised bill this spring that passed the Senate, but stalled in the Assembly. In that version, the Thruway Authority, MTA and Port Authority of New York and New Jersey could partner with the DMV and other states to suspend vehicle registrations after registered owners fail to respond to five toll-due notices. Carlucci said he plans to pursue the legislation again in the fall.

"People are just not aware of the problem and don't know the extent of how serious it is — and how that money can go to mitigate tolls and infrastructure around the state," he said.

Assemblyman Thomas Abinanti, D-Greenburgh, said he is against the idea of imposing more severe penalties as toll agencies eliminate the cash option.

"Not everyone has a stable living environment where they get mail regularly and they have checking accounts and they can pay bills easily," he said. "You are making people — who would otherwise pay if the given the opportunity — scofflaws."

Other states that have switched to all-electronic toll collection have also amended their laws to give toll agencies more enforcement power. Maryland, for instance, enacted a law in 2013 that allows the Maryland Transportation Authority to work with the state's department of motor vehicles to block vehicle registration renewals or, in some cases, immediately suspend the registrations.

In Texas, a law passed last year is even stricter. Drivers with 100 or more unpaid tolls — defined as "habitual violators" — could have their vehicles banned from certain roads operated by the North Texas Tollway Authority. Drivers who don't comply with the ban face a $500 fine, an impounded vehicle, or both.

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tolls are not the way to pay for our highways

tolls are not the way to pay for our highways



Regarding the recent editorial "Drive to toll interstates welcome," lawmakers will face tough choices as they begin to work on legislation to pay for our nation’s highways. But tolling, with its exorbitant costs and inefficiencies, should not be the road taken.

State and federal fuel taxes cost the average American about $250 a year. On a per-mile basis, the fuel tax costs drivers 1.6 cents per mile. By comparison, drivers pay exorbitant sums per mile to drive our nation’s toll roads. For example, drivers traveling the Chicago Skyway get socked with a fee of 46 cents per mile.

For each dollar collected in tolls, 20 cents to 30 cents goes to administration, even with electronic tolling. Administering the federal motor fuel tax, by comparison, costs less than a penny per dollar. And under the president’s plan, some of the tolls paid by drivers will be diverted to unrelated projects, further diminishing the amount of funding directed to the interstate system and guaranteeing that tolls will continue to increase.

-- Jim Goetz, co-president, Goetz Companies, Portage

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