Arizonans may have to get used to the idea of paying tolls if they want new and expanded roads, the nation’s new top transportation official said Monday.
Mary Peters, confirmed three weeks ago as the new U.S. Secretary of Transportation, said rapidly growing states like Arizona won’t be able to count on federal dollars to keep up with highwayconstruction needs. She said they are going to have to find other ways to finance new roads and maintain existing ones.
And Peters, an Arizona resident, said that includes letting private companies construct roads and lanes — and allowing them to charge people to use them.
“The truth is, the traditional sources of funding are not going to be adequate in the future,’’ Peters said Monday in an interview with Capitol Media Services. “So we have to diversify our funding sources.”
She acknowledged that Arizona is a “donor state,’’ sending more in gasoline taxes collected to Washington than it receives back in federal highway aid.
Peters is chairwoman of a commission exploring whether to cut the federal gasoline tax, currently at 18.4 cents a gallon. That could provide an opportunity for states like Arizona to make up the difference — and keep the cash locally.
But Peters said states are going to have to look at other sources of revenue.
“And one good way to do that is to tap into the significant amounts of private sector money that’s out there today and ready to be invested — if you can find a project that works with it.’’ That, she said, means opportunities for the use of toll roads in Arizona.
She cited the example of special lanes on the Riverside Freeway in Orange County, where motorists pay tolls from $1.15 to $8.50 — depending on time of day — to use the four special lanes that skirt around the congestion. Peters said in Arizona such funds could be used to put more special “car pool’’ lanes along state highways.
Vehicles with more than one occupant might still be able to use them for free, depending on how the lanes were financed. But someone traveling solo also could skip around traffic jams by paying a toll for that privilege.
She conceded that while people in eastern U.S. regions think nothing of tolls, the concept is relatively alien to the West. But she said changing technology makes it unnecessary to design toll roads the way they used to be, with booths where people stopped to pay.
For example, Peters said she has used a transponder that attaches to a windshield, identifying the vehicle and linking it to a specific bank account. “I think that would make it more palatable to people here in the West who really haven’t experienced toll roads,” she said.