This one’s a bad idea…

I think that I have been pretty clear about my support of privatizing toll roads and through private construction of new toll roads. However, this idea is something that is a bridge too far:

Regional transportation and political leaders are increasingly coming to the conclusion that the only way to keep the chronically congested Washington region moving is tolls, and plenty of them.

A report to be released Wednesday pushes a regionwide system that would place tolls on most existing area highways, bridges into the District, the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, George Washington Memorial Parkway and such major District thoroughfares as New York Avenue. The key to success, the authors say, is the comprehensiveness of the network.

Officials, pointing to the lack of any sizable investment in the region’s transportation infrastructure by Virginia, Maryland or the federal government, say they see no other realistic options to keep traffic moving, accommodate newcomers and get desperately needed money to pay for new roads and improved transit. The tolls could generate more than $2.75 billion a year, according to the report.

This idea is problematic for a number of reasons. One is the fact that the roads that have been proposed to have tolls added to them are already existent. Certainly I have never suggested that roads that are already part of the existing non-tolled infrastructure. We already have roads that are clogged, roads that are already used by commuters; how is adding tolls to existing non-tolled roads going to solve traffic? Clearly, it’s not.

One other problem with this concept comes from a misconception that is quoted in the article:

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Toll proponents say users should pay for the true cost of highways. Unlike traveling by Metro or airplane, users can take roads for free, and there is no financial incentive to reduce unnecessary trips, adjust timing, carpool or use transit. Roads in the region are so overused that they no longer operate dependably.

Of course, roads are anything but free. We pay a pretty stiff fee to use those roads in the form of state and federal taxes. To say that these roads are “free” is, of course, poppycock. And to say that that there is no financial incentive to reduce travel and commuting time is even more farcical when you consider the non-financial costs of commuting that many folks already have to build into their daily lives.

Finally, nobody really answers the question as to who these tolls would be paid to. Will tolls be collected by the states or by the District of Columbia? Are the tolls being collected by the federal government, considering the proposed inclusion of federal parkways in this scheme. Or will the tolls be collected by an unelected multi-state entity? I certainly do not want to see toll dollars from drivers using roads in Maryland shipped off to a regional outfit that will misspend and misuse the money, when the money can be misspent and misused right here in Maryland.

While I am glad that the Metropolitan Council of Washington Governments is looking at ways to alleviate the region’s traffic problems, the fact of the matters is that these Utopian proposal are nowhere near optimal nor practical. The Council needs to look at proposals that are practical and realistic, proposals that will reduce commuting time and not take additional funding out of the pockets of the region’s working families, not the creation of additional mechanisms to take more money out of the pockets of commuters.


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