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Today's read: How much support for tolls?

Panel wants to study public support for tolls: The Washington area's governments are turning to tolls as a way to fund new road projects, such as the Intercounty Connector in Maryland and the high-occupancy toll lanes under construction on the Capital Beltway in Northern Virginia. But proposals to charge motorists for using existing roads have been controversial. (Katherine Shaver)

I can save them some money on this study: If it means no increase in the gas tax, people will support the imposition of tolls, as long as the roads they drive aren't the ones getting tolled.

By Robert Thomson  |  October 22, 2009; 7:40 AM ET
Categories:  Driving  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Today's Read  
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I have no problem with the gas tax increasing roughly with inflation to keep the highway/transit funds from going bankrupt as they are now.
I have no problem with tolls (or fare increases) as long as we're getting something over and above what we got before - i.e, HOT lanes, a new road such as the Greenway or ICC, etc.
I do have an issue with hyper-raises on existing tolls (the MTA doubling tolls in Baltimore a couple of years ago with no substantive increase in service), or slapping tolls on existing roads (like they are trying to do w/ I-80 in Pennsylvania, or I-81 in Virginia) as a budget rescue measure.

Posted by: vtavgjoe | October 22, 2009 8:42 AM | Report abuse

I have no issue with a toll when the toll is imposed on a road that's being improved and the toll goes towards paying for the improvement. For example, had the I-81 widening plans in Virginia gone through, the road would have been widened to a quad-carriageway design like the New Jersey Turnpike with separate car and truck lanes, with tolls paying for the construction. That's fine with me. I don't have a problem with the Beltway HOT lane project for the same reason, and I suppose I can see how the argument for the Shirley Highway HOT lanes would fall under the same umbrella since the existing HOV facility would be expanded and extended (although I'm torn, as I like to use the express lanes outside of the HOV hours and I would not likely use them if I had to pay a toll).

Tolling an existing road simply to raise revenue for something else strikes me as far more problematic (and, in the case of Interstate highways, it would require federal approval, which traditionally hasn't been forthcoming).

However, I wonder if the article Dr. Gridlock linked actually means conventional tolls or whether it's a version of the insidious idea of putting some sort of GPS tracking device in every vehicle and then charging you for the distance you drove. The first paragraph of the article suggests it might be that sort of plan. I have no interest in a system like that because it smacks of Big Brother and because it causes umpteen other problems. For example, suppose you charge 10ยข per mile driven in tax. The theory is that drivers would use the shortest route, thus minimizing the expense. But we all know that the shortest route mileage-wise is not always the fastest route time-wise. Or sometimes the longer route may not be faster but is less stressful and doesn't raise your blood pressure as much. At what point do drivers consider the higher mileage tax an acceptable trade-off for saving 20 minutes to half an hour or for having an easier drive? And do the Powers That Be really want to impose a system that discourages people from being aware of alternative routes and using them when appropriate?

Posted by: 1995hoo | October 22, 2009 9:05 AM | Report abuse

I have no problem with a gas tax increase, especially since VA's has stupidly not been indexed for inflation. Tolls for new roads are fine as an alternative.

What I DO have a problem with are "Exact Change" and "Full Service" tollbooths which cause needless backups. (DTR, I'm looking at you with most exit ramp / entrance ramp toll plazas without EZ-PASS ONLY lanes!)

I realize the Commonwealth is in many ways stuck in the 19th century, but tolling should not require change-baskets and mile-long backups of idling vehicles anymore.

Similarly, tolling existing roads with more of the same ancient technology is a non-starter. Traffic is bad enough as it is! We don't want to emulate I-95 in DE.

Posted by: nocando | October 22, 2009 9:09 AM | Report abuse

Memo to the Virginia General Assembly:

My time is worth significantly more to me than 5 or 10 cents a gallon.

Posted by: nocando | October 22, 2009 9:16 AM | Report abuse

Why is raising the gas tax such a nonstarter? I'd rather see the gas tax go up than all these stupid toll roads.

If I had a nickel for every time I've heard Lisa Baden say the words, "267: backup at the main toll plaza", I'd be able to fund the ICC myself. But strangely, I've never heard her say, "backup at afsljafweljkjlfe's favorite gas station to pay the gas tax."

Posted by: afsljafweljkjlfe | October 22, 2009 10:39 AM | Report abuse

I do not support any tolls. Public infrastructure is for the public, not the public that can afford it.

Quit taxing the poor. If they need revenue, tax the rich at 90%.

Posted by: anarcho-liberal-tarian | October 22, 2009 11:34 AM | Report abuse

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