Monday, May 15, 2006

Surpised Over Toll Road Opposition?

There's been a lot of debate in recent months over the idea of building toll roads in Utah. The line of UDOT and transportation planners is that this may be the only way we can build the roads we need soon enough, because we'll never get that amount of money through typical taxation.

Public concern with this idea has been voiced frequently, as evidenced by a recent story in the DesNews. Now comes a story that the truckers' association plans to mount a campaign against the idea.

Opposition to such ideas should not be surprising. While we dislike congestion, we seem to dislike paying more money for things even more.

Anthony Downs, senior fellow with the Brookings Institute and one of the foremost and most realistic experts on transportation, notes that the most effective solutions to congestion are ones the public will not accept. He says, "There are only four ways to cope with this problem without restructuring our society (so that everyone doesn't go to work at the same time each day).

"The first way to cope is to build enough roads so that everybody who wants to move at once can do so at high speed. But there are so many people involved we would have to turn each metropolitan area into one giant cement slab ... at enormous expense."

We could "expand off-road public transit so it takes enough people off the roads so that those left could move rapidly. But outside of New York City, very few Americans commute by transit. Only 4.7% did so in 2000, and if we remove those in NYC, it would be 3.5%. Why so few? Too many people live in low-density settlements that cannot be efficiently served by transit."

We could "charge money for driving during peak hours and set the tolls so that enough people would be kept off the roads so those who used them could drive fast. ... But most Americans are against this method (see stories above!)

"The only remaining method of coping is forcing people to wait in line to use the roads during peak hours. That can be defined as traffic congestion. So that is what we have to do, and so do people in every other large metropolitan region in the world. Congestion is the only feasible solution to our basic mobility problems."

So get yourself some books on tape, or find a good friend to share drive-time with, or plan to use your cell-phone for some extra work time. That seems to be all we'll accept, at least for now.


At 3:55 PM, Blogger Tyler Farrer said...

I know the County Commission voted against a fee applied at the DMV because it is "double taxation", but I wonder what they would think about a toll? It could be called a tax, but it positively influences the behavior of the public.

I for one, would support a toll road.

At 6:22 AM, Blogger google_PEAK_OIL said...

Most of the toll road opposition I've seen is in the form of "Those other kids got a free road, why don't we get one? What a jipp!"

There are bigger issues with toll roads that never seem to get much discussion in Utah.

The website has a Road Scholar series of posts dealing with some of those issues.

The most worrisome issue to me is the funding arrangement. Will the state have to effectively co-sign for construction loans with the private company? What then happens if the road fails to collect sufficient tolls to maintain the road and service the debt? The private company could declare bankruptcy and cease to exist, leaving the state with a billion dollar debt and a toll road incapable of attracting enough money to service it.

Toll roads and bridges have a long history of economic failure. A large deviation from predicted traffic due to an energy crisis would make the failure of the road to generate anticipated revenue a certainty.


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