States reliance on P3s has grown steadily over the past several decades, partially a response to congress failure to increase the gas tax.
The annual amount invested in toll roads has increased dramatically, from $155 million at the turn of the millennium to $3.65 billion in 2011, according to Salon.com. The U.S. has spent $54 billion on 96 P3 projects since the early 1990’s, a majority of which have been built in urban areas. Between 1998 and 2010 tolls have risen by 36 percent.
Still, toll roads are a fraction of the mileage of U.S. highways. Of the 46,876 miles of Interstate highway in the U.S., only 3,300 miles require tolls, and many of those tollways were grandfathered into the interstate system.
There are several reasons for the shift to toll roads, including:
- State and federal funding for roadways has run low;
- Tolling technology has advanced, allowing drivers to pass through control points without coming to a stop; and
- States’ understanding of how to use P3s to harness private investment on public projects is improving.
“Government has gotten a lot smarter about the variables,” said Neil Gray, the director of government affairs at the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association.
In Texas, which has led the nation in using P3s to build new roads, one in every four miles of new highway built since 1991 has involved tolling. In that state, revenue raised from tolls now equals the receipts from the state gas tax.