There is the way that the world should be and then there is the way that it is. There is the way that our ideas should abstractly work and then there is how they work in reality. There is the disaster we foresee when our grand ideas are thrwarted, and what we actually see when that happens. When confronted with this dissonance, we are left to admit that (a) our original idea was wrong, (b) whatever unexpected good/bad we see must not be that good/bad after all, or (c) whatever good/bad we see was actually caused by something other than the success or failure of the policy on which we stand so firm or firmly against.

In short, sometimes reality intrudes on our ideas.

I’ve noticed this happen on a couple of issues recently and I haven’t really decided on whether I am falling on the side of (a) or (b).

The first involves smoking bans, which I’ll address tomorrow, and the second involves toll roads, which I’ll address today.

Ideally speaking, toll roads are one of the best forms of government revenue in existence. People that use it pay, people that don’t do not. Most of the time there is an alternate route someone can take if they don’t want to or don’t have the means to pay. In Delosa, there’s always an adjacent frontage road or even a freeway (that traffic usually sucks on). Does it get any more perfect than that? Voluntary tax!

There are a number of ways that toll roads go awry, though. Many have been “temporarily” set up as toll roads in Colosse but in my lifetime I have never seen toll booths get shut down. It’s originally supposed to fund the building of the road, then it’s for maintenance and the extra money goes towards building other roads. So much for the ideal of taxing for use, though the money does have to come from somewhere I suppose. Increasingly, toll roads are privatized and the profits don’t even go into the pocket books of private enterprise than to further expansion, though in that case the toll company is paying the city or state something.

Even setting those aside, though, one thing that I’ve noticed is that toll roads can serious impede development. Santomas, the city where I currently live, is building a toll road look around the inner part of the city. Santomas is a north-south city wherein traffic on the north-south freeway is so bad that half of the time on my drive home I’ll spend half an hour or more on backroads to avoid three miles or fewer in the Interstate.

One of the goals of the loop is to create more east-west development so that the city becomes less north-south and getting from Point A to Point B in the city doesn’t always involve going on the dreaded Interstate. This plan is failing miserably. New developments are going up further north and further south rather than east or west. Why? Because developers don’t want to build houses and then have to tell people that to get to work they’re going to be needing to pay an additional $3 on toll roads.

Even though the economics say that the $3 is a bargain, people won’t do it. They’d rather spend fifteen minutes more on the road going north-south even if the economics say that thirty minutes of your time is worth far more than $3. People’s inability to recognize the economics of commutes are a subject for a different day, but the perception is there. People are used to free roads. It’s difficult to get them to pay for what they’re used to getting for free, no matter how much you explain to them it makes sense.

Category: Road, Statehouse

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2 Responses to The Booth Tolls For You

  1. Peter says:

    Living on Long Island has given me a particularly jaundiced view of tolls. Driving off the island requires payment of bridge or tunnel tolls, which would be okay except for the fact that the toll revenues fund New York City’s transit operations and most Long Island residents (I’m an exception) make no use of those operations and therefore derive no direct benefits from payment of the tolls. The construction bonds for the bridges and tunnels have long since been retired, and toll revenues vastly exceed maintenance costs. Yes, it could be and is argued that by supporting transit the tolls spur regional economic development and therefore provide at least indirect benefits to the motorists paying them, but it’s a lot harder to justify indirect benefits in one’s mind.

    Some of the freeways near Los Angeles have extra-cost toll lanes running alongside the free lanes. When these were under development starting in the 1990’s many people nicknamed them “Lexus Lanes,” figuring that only the more affluent commuters would be able to use them (rush hour tolls can be quite high). As things turned out, user surveys have shown that most of the drivers who shell out to use the Lexus Lanes during morning rush hour are ordinary working stiffs. People like that usually have to be in work at a specific time or be docked. If traffic on the free lanes is especially heavy they may have little choice but to pay the tolls. The real Lexus-driving SCA’s often don’t bother with the tolls, as they don’t punch time clocks and have little reason to worry if they arrive late to work.

    Connecticut actually did shut down the tolls on the Connecticut Turnpike and the Merritt/Wilbur Cross parkways in the 1980’s. It did so after a truck driver fell asleep and drove at 60+ mph into a line of cars waiting at a Turnpike toll booth.

  2. trumwill says:

    They’re actually discussing Lexus Lanes in Colosse with the expansion of one of the major interstates.

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