BY CURTIS TATE
WASHINGTON — The federal interstate highway system is showing its age, and, faced with the cost of repairing all those bumps and cracks, some states want to ask motorists to pay tolls on roads that used to be free.
That’s the last thing a public that’s paying $4 for a gallon of gasoline wants to hear, and elected officials, from members of Congress to President Barack Obama, aren’t likely in an election year to propose that motorists pay higher gasoline taxes or tolls. But many transportation experts and officials agree that if Americans want to drive on good roads, they’re going to have to pay more for them, or do without.
Most of the 46,000-mile interstate system has been toll-free for its 56-year history. But pavement and bridges on the system’s oldest sections are reaching the ends of their life spans and need to be replaced. A 2009 report by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials recommended an annual investment in U.S. highways and bridges of $166 billion.
“Highways are not designed to last forever,” said Bob Poole, a Florida-based transportation policy expert and supporter of tolls at the Reason Foundation, a libertarian research group in Washington. “There is a major need over the next two decades or so to rebuild and modernize the entire interstate system.”