Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

For whom the price tolls

Of course, from the standpoint of economically sound decisions, tolls on roads make sense. And hard core conservatives like the idea of toll roads, especially privately constructed "HOT" (high occupancy toll) lanes. See "What's HOT?: HOT lanes, coming soon" from the Fredericksburg Freelance-Star.

But just like how it is almost impossible for biking and transit to compete with the automobile because there are so many subsidies (price of gasoline, freeways, free parking), it's hard for toll roads to compete more generally because most roads do not have tolls.


Maryland is going through the process to raise tolls right now, and there is a lot of pushback. See "Board mulls changes to toll-increase plan" and "State won't back off on Susquehanna bridges tolls, Harford legislator says" from the Baltimore Sun.

One bridge over the Susquehanna River has a special $10 per year pricing for locals (not unlike virtually free on street parking for DC residents, who pay $15/year for a parking permit) and that program is being dropped. Plus Eastern Shore residents claim that they will be economically disadvantaged by toll increases for the Bay Bridge.

It will be interesting to see what happens with the Inter County Connector, and whether or not the revenues will be high enough to pay for the cost of constructing the road.

Northern Virginia

Probably the real reason why people are all hot and bothered about the cost of the Silver Line Metro ("Airports authority endorses aboveground Dulles rail station" from the Post) is because of how much of the funding comes from the Dulles Toll Road. An op-ed in tomorrow's Post makes that clear in this piece, "The Dulles Metro station isn’t the problem. The Toll Road increases are."

From the article:

Under the current funding plan, almost 100 percent of the cost of Phase 2 of the Dulles Metrorail project is to be paid from local sources: one-fourth from Fairfax and Loudoun counties and the airports authority, and three-fourths from Dulles Toll Road revenue. There is no state grant assistance. There is no federal grant assistance.

No other transit megaproject in the United States is 100 percent locally funded. In fact, most have combined state and federal assistance of at least one-third of costs.

It should hardly be a shock, then, that the tolls needed to support Dulles Metrorail will be eye-popping. To be sure, the secretary’s process, by reducing Phase 2 costs (and shifting $400 million of costs to Fairfax and Loudoun), will have some mitigating effect on tolls. But even at the $2.8 billion cost the secretary has found acceptable, today’s $2 toll is projected to be $13 in 20 years, $17 in 30 years.

Austin Texas area toll road subsidies

According to the Austin American-Statesman in "Central Texas Toll Roads Need More State Subsidies," Texas toll roads aren't self-funded through tolls. From the article:

Tolls and other revenue have fallen more than $100 million short of covering debt and operating costs of the state's three-road Central Texas Turnpike System since the highways opened about four years ago. Texas Department of Transportation subsidies almost 70 percent more than originally predicted have made up the difference.

Those subsidies, covered primarily by state gasoline taxes that otherwise would be available for other road spending, should average about $38 million a year over the next decade and total about $750 million by 2042 , according to TxDOT documents. The system's first profitable year is not estimated to occur until 2030 , with some years in the red even after that because of major road rehabilitation expenses.


The Los Angeles Times reports in "San Diego County regional government to buy bankrupt toll road" about how the local government in San Diego County is buying a toll road because it's not able to pay its way. From the article:

Opened in November 2007, the 10-mile toll road in southern San Diego County was described initially as an example for Los Angeles and other traffic-beset regions on how a private-public partnership could build new roads and ease congestion.

Instead it became a cautionary tale about risky assumptions, and the stubborn opposition of motorists to paying tolls. In March 2010 the road's operator filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, noting that traffic counts were less than 50% of projections.

Interestingly, the success of Orange County, California's State Route 91 toll road is what has driven the idea nationally that toll roads can be successful.

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