The San Bernardino County (CA) Transportation Authority has approved a $1.8 billion project to add toll lanes to a 33-mile section of Interstate 10, according to the Fontana Herald News.
The population of San Bernardino County has tripled to 2.1 million in the last 40 years and is expected to increase 60% by 2060. County officials said tolls are necessary to combat the projected traffic congestion and pollution.
Some local residents and officials pushed back against the project, calling the future tolls an additional tax. Still, construction should begin in late 2018, with all toll lanes expected to be operational in 2024.
For decades, tolls have been a point of contention among drivers who resent the additional fee. However, those fees have become essential for many transportation agencies that use tolls to fund highway upgrades and expansions. Such is the case in nearby Orange County, CA, where the transportation board approved paperwork for a $627 million federal loan that will help finance the final section of the county's largest-ever capital project — the Interstate 405 Improvement Project.
The I-405 project loan is set to be delivered through the U.S. Department of Transportation's Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA), which is expected to be given final approval by Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. The TIFIA loan will be paid back entirely by tolls and is projected to save Orange County $300 million, which officials say will go toward funding other critical projects.
With the possibility of success for California's I-405 program and the need to find ways to eventually finance President Donald Trump's anticipated $1 trillion infrastructure program, federal lawmakers are mulling an expansion of the TIFIA loan program. Last week, Congress heard testimony on the program to inform their consideration. Many former loan recipients noted that the low interest rates gave TIFIA loans an edge over municipal bond financing. However, they said that the overall cost of the program — up to $400,000 in credit-rating fees — could exclude smaller projects.
TIFIA federal funding will reach $300 million for 2019 and 2020, but in his 2018 budget Trump has proposed increasing that level to $1 billion in the hope that it will spur infrastructure investment of up to $140 billion. Every dollar of direct federal TIFIA spending pays for $10 of loans.