Byron Schlomach

Toll roads must be part of congestion strategy

Posted on October 20, 2007 | Author: Byron Schlomach
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According to the Texas Transportation Institutes Urban Mobility Report, Phoenix is the 15th most congested city in the nation.

It takes the average Phoenix commuter 30 percent longer to complete a trip than it would without congestion. The average Phoenician wastes the equivalent of a workweek sitting in traffic every year. Not to mention about 34 gallons of gas.

Traditional solutions for solving Phoenix's traffic problems aren't working. Were expanding mass transit and speeding freeway construction, but Phoenix would have to add a half-million more daily transit riders or 12 lane miles of road every year in order to just maintain current congestion levels. The lane miles alone would likely cost more than $2 billion per year.

What can be done to help our traffic crunch? The SR91 express lanes along Orange County, Califs Riverside Freeway are a guide. Built by a private company according to its proposal, these lanes offer fast commuting for all those willing to pay a toll. Though toll lanes are fewer than the free lanes, they carry half the traffic on the Riverside route because tolls limit congestion.

Gone are the days of dangerous time-wasting toll booths. Modern technology lets you zip through toll checkpoints unhindered, using small transponders mounted unobtrusively on the vehicle. Heavy vehicles that do more damage to the roads can be billed accordingly, using sensors that measure approximate weight, too.

For those who fear toll roads could mean paying twice once with taxes and again with tolls only new road capacity built by private companies would be tolled. Private companies can get new road capacity on the ground in only a few years capacity that would not otherwise appear for a decade or more.

Companies from around the world are willing to fund, efficiently design, build, maintain and administer high quality roads through long-term leases. The Indiana toll road, still owned by the state, was leased to a company for $3.8 billion. The company administers the road and collects the regulated tolls. Private companies are substantially funding the southern extensions of the tolled Highway 130 in Texas, helping relieve I-35 congestion.

Through tolls, drivers signal where new road capacity is truly needed to a private company interested in satisfying consumer demand. Need more lanes on I-10? A private company could add free lanes in exchange for the ability to charge tolls to low-occupancy vehicles on the current HOV lanes. Need a bypass around South Mountain? A private concern might make a proposal to build a two-lane road for freight trucks, or perhaps a four-lane, divided, limited-access roadway for mixed traffic.

Tolls allow more productive use of time, too. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters recently highlighted a statistic that 50 percent of rush-hour traffic is not work related. Tolls can encourage those making optional trips to do so during off-peak travel times.

Privately financed roads create possibilities we cannot currently imagine, but one thing is sure: The current system, where roads are given away as if they are free, combined with bureaucratic and political deal making, has proven itself unsustainable. If we want to keep Phoenix moving, lets open road building to private companies and get this show on the road.

Learn More:

Arizona Legislature: SB 1465 and SB 1498

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