Highway Maintenance Shouldn't Depend on Tolls

North Carolina's highways need updating, but tolls will further burden citizens.

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Renee Ellmers is a Republican U.S. representative from North Carolina.

There is nothing more endearing to the American experience than cruising down the highway with the freedom to control your own destiny. Our federal highway system was created under President Eisenhower following World War II and his amazement at the resourcefulness of the German Autobahn. Not only would it serve as a vital resource for emergencies and national security, but also to connect our nation with an efficient supply chain for goods and commerce to reach every corner of America. In our free enterprise system, the highway is essential.

[Read Robert Poole: Tolls Pay the Way for Updating America's Interstate Highways]

North Carolina has enjoyed a vibrant commercial economy due to the success of this interstate highway system. Millions of consumers and tourists travel across our state and become customers to thousands of businesses in our communities. Without the free flow of commerce on these highways, our economy would come to a halt and many of the goods and services we take for granted would be far more expensive, if not unavailable entirely.

But time wears and we can all agree that our roads and highways need to be expanded and maintained. The question arises as to how to pay for it. Recently, Gov. Bev Perdue and the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) began their attempt to implement a new federal pilot program that imposes tolls. Some like the idea of users paying for highways, but tolls are taxes that are passed downstream and have adverse effects on an already suffering economy.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

While I agree that our highways need to be updated to meet growing needs and usage, it should not come at unnecessary costs to businesses and the surrounding communities. In fact, I've seen no evidence that any alternatives to this toll proposal were ever considered. The state's analysis merely considered the amount needed to fund the project and concluded that tolls were the answer.

Instead, there should be a comprehensive assessment of our highway infrastructure situation and reform and oversight of the way our state administrators spend money on our highway system. North Carolina bureaucrats have been diverting finances from the highway trust funds for years and the state Supreme Court in 2010 let stand a decision that this is illegal. But now the state is focusing primarily on tolls.

[See a collection of political cartoons on gas prices.]

In North Carolina, our communities rely on these highways for their income, development, and job creation. But for many years, residents of our state have suffered the burden of having the sixth-highest gas tax in the nation. Furthermore, by NCDOT's own estimates, 30 percent of traffic would be diverted to avoid tolls. An additional toll would be devastating to communities and businesses that rely on I-95 travelers for their livelihood.

Time is of the essence to protect consumers and taxpayers from being punished by the state government's inability to curtail wasteful spending and balance the budget. That is why I have submitted legislation—H.R. 4174, the No Tolls in North Carolina Act of 2012—to halt any tolls from moving forward until alternative solutions have been adequately studied.

Our economy is surviving due to Americans' persistence in spite of government efforts to tax and regulate them into bankruptcy. I will not rest until our government changes its course and gives them the freedom to prosper and grow. This begins with eliminating the roadblocks to our economic recovery. Preventing tolls on I-95 is a step in the right direction.