I rarely listen to the Doug Wright show. When I do, I generally wonder afterwards how I am any better off than if I had simply listened to the fuzz between stations. Today I happened to hear Doug when I turned on the radio and he was speaking on a subject I care about – tolling in Utah. It did not take long to conclude that Doug must have been stuck on the freeway when the discussions of tolling were starting – because he’s behind the times on the debate. Doug talks as if the tolling were going to happen only on the Mountain View Corridor and that planners were suggesting that it would only last until the bonds were paid off. I think it’s time that Doug caught up to what’s really being discussed more recently.
First, nobody is pretending that tolling is a temporary measure, so Doug is right that once that door is opened it won’t be closed again. Doug also fails to recognize that we already have a toll lane on I-15 with the possibility of other lanes starting to be tolled in the future so the door has already been opened to tolling in Utah.
Second, as cars get better fuel efficiency the government (State and Federal) receives fewer tax dollars per vehicle mile traveled to maintain roads. Regardless of how innovative our ancestors were, we have to find more revenue to maintain that transportation infrastructure. Perhaps Doug would like us to raise the gas tax – as if that would not disproportionally hit the poorest people (the same complaint he makes against tolling). That option fails to address the possibility of a future with other fuel alternatives and the fact that we must find a way to generate revenue in a way that is fair according to use regardless of other factors such as what fuel one person’s vehicle uses or how efficient the vehicle is. Fair revenue would be based on usage (miles traveled being the best measure of usage in my mind).
Third, Doug is referencing revenue projections on toll roads that were built for the purpose of generating revenue. The Mountain View Corridor needs to be built regardless of what revenue it might generate. Any revenue it generates is better than not generating any revenue. Also, lower revenue is an indication of lower usage which results in lower maintenance costs. For a road that is already necessary the risk of low revenue is minimal and tolling a necessary road is a totally different situation than adding new road capacity in order to generate revenue.
Let’s review what’s really being discussed.
- Simple tolling is being less talked about than congestion pricing – which is even more fair because the cost is adjusted based on the usage levels when the driving is happening and it means that people can plan most of their trips at low-toll or no-toll times.
- Calls to include similar tolling options on I-15 and the Mountain View Corridor are increasing. There is no reason that tolling should favor one area over another.
- Electronic tolling would prevent the sitting in line using up gas that Doug complains about. Anyone who was using a toll road regularly would be getting an electronic monitor. Only those who are passing through or who use the roads infrequently would ever have to be stopped at a toll booth.
There are arguments against tolling that deserve consideration, but Doug missed any of those. My conclusion is – if we get congestion pricing as I envision it and I had to listen to Doug Wright I can promise that I would pay the highest toll rates to get off the road as fast as possible in order to minimize my listening time.