Should National Park Service Charge Tolls on Its Parkways?

Study shows potential for revenue to help fund overdue repairs

Should National Park Service Charge Tolls on Its Parkways?
Baltimore-Washington Parkway
The 29-mile Baltimore-Washington Parkway has connected the two cities since 1954.

The National Park Service (NPS) could generate $16 million to $190 million annually by collecting tolls on some of the parkways it oversees—money that could help pay to maintain and repair those roads, a study found. Currently, the NPS lacks the legal authority to collect tolls.

The analysis, commissioned by The Pew Charitable Trusts, looked at five popular parkways, four of them in Washington metro area. The cost of addressing deferred maintenance needs in national parks is approaching $12 billion, about half of which is attributed to transportation infrastructure. The five parkways listed below need more than $533 million in repairs. 

NPS parkway

Estimated deferred maintenance needs
(fiscal year 2017)

George Washington Memorial Parkway

$167 million

Baltimore-Washington Parkway

$27.7 million

Suitland Parkway

$9.5 million

Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway

$4.1 million

Blue Ridge Parkway

$325.1 million

Source: Aecom, “Preliminary Planning Estimate of Tolling Potential for Selected NPS Roadways” (2018)
George Washington Memorial Parkway
Cars travel through Arlington, Virginia, on the George Washington Memorial Parkway.
Getty Images

The four Washington area roads were designed as scenic routes but are often jammed with commuter traffic. The fifth road studied, the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway, which runs from Afton, Virginia, to Cherokee, North Carolina, was the most-visited NPS site in 2017 with more than 16 million visits.  

The analysis looked at tolling structures of 4, 8, 12, or 16 cents per mile, as well as a modest flat-fee model.  Results varied by parkway, with the highest potential revenue measured on the Baltimore-Washington and Suitland parkways.

This study was not intended as a policy recommendation but was conducted to determine whether tolling would be a way to help fund park repairs. Preliminary findings show that, under certain circumstances, it could provide a viable option.

Marcia Argust directs The Pew Charitable Trusts' campaign to restore America's parks.

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Assateague Island maintenance
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National Park Deferred Maintenance Needs

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National Park Deferred Maintenance Needs

With record crowds contributing to wear and tear and federal funding unreliable, the National Park Service is struggling to keep pace with repairs, estimated at $11.6 billion in fiscal year 2017. Use this tool, based on NPS data, to learn more about deferred maintenance at NPS sites across the county, in your state, and at your favorite park.