Tolling for construction or operations costs

Tolls can serve as an additional source of revenue to pay for highway or transit construction or operations costs. Toll revenue can also be used to repay long-term debt used to finance the construction of the transportation facility.

Key characteristics





WSDOT regions

Other names

  • Congestion pricing
  • Express toll lanes
  • High occupancy toll lanes

Strategy description

Toll revenue is often used to repay long-term debt issued to fund design and construction of the tolled facility, which may include roadway and transit facilities. However, money from tolls can also be reinvested in additional highway or transit capacity expansion and/or to pay for ongoing highway or transit operations and maintenance.

Tolls used primarily to provide revenue are traditionally fixed rate, distance-based and vary by vehicle type. Tolls used to improve traffic flow and travel time reliability, known as congestion pricing, may vary according to travel demand. Some tolls are designed to both provide revenue and manage travel demand. 

When to use this strategy

Tolling for construction or operations costs makes sense when:

  • There are high levels of traffic congestion and travel demand, increasing transit travel times and decreasing general-purpose and transit travel time reliability.
  • Communities are frustrated with the increasing costs of congestion and are willing to consider the potential benefits of pricing.
  • Communities urgently desire transportation improvements and are willing to pay tolls to repay transportation bonds if that will expedite the improvements.

What you need in order to implement

Tolling to pay for construction or operations costs requires significant planning and collaboration, long lead times and clear authorization form multiple entities.

Multiple entities will need to use their authority and influence to enable tolling. Depending on where it is being considered, this could include the Federal Highway Administration, governor, state legislature, Washington State Transportation Commission, regional or metropolitan planning organization, transit agencies, employers and others. All are influenced by public attitudes toward tolls and pricing.

Availability of non-tolled options for historically disadvantaged populations, for example, transit service. 

Learn more about this strategy

Tolling in Washington State, WSDOT: Information about tolling policy, planning and facilities.

Tolling and Pricing, Federal Highway Administration Center for Innovative Finance Support: Information, resources and tools.

Transportation Funding & Financing, Batic Institute: an American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials Center for Excellence.

About key characteristics

Location notes:

Urban and suburban areas and corridors with significant traffic congestion and robust transit service. 

Cost notes:

Tolling for construction or operations costs can occur with or without public-private partnerships. 

Technology notes:

Toll/revenue collection systems and enforcement systems require significant levels of technology.

Collaboration notes:

Tolling can be highly controversial. High levels of collaboration, community engagement and political commitment are required.

Need or issue this strategy addresses