As President Bush establishes national policy for the next four years, at least, the 110 Congress will be responsible for establishing national transportation policy with the surface transportation reauthorization bill.
Clearly, federal spending for non-security related items will be locked into a 1% budget increase. In an era of eminent inflation, this means an over-all budget cut for most departments. Transportation will be no exception. And with the ever-increasing cost of crude oil, combined with the current Administration's distaste for increasing taxes, it will be highly unlikely that we will see a hike in gas tax. Therefore, how will federal and state authorities propose to pay for maintenance and construction of the Country's road infrastructure?
PLANETIZEN recently posted an article written by four members of the Bush-Cheney transportation policy team. Their article briefs the reader about these fiscal dilemmas, and then commits 4 methods that the US Department of Transportation should focus on:Diversifying revenue sources, encouraging bus rapid transit, expanding the definition of new rail starts to include HOV lanes (don't get me ranting on this one), and focusing on congestion management. They conclude with a vision of how an ideal transportation department (Texas, of course) will function in the future.
But for now, I want to focus on their paragraph about diversification of revenue sources, i.e. tolls. I am intrigued by the implications that a federal policy condoning state-imposed tolls on inter-state and national highways would have on our road network. I looked around and found this article by the University of California Transportation Center The Lessons from SR 91 which briefs the history of this private road project within the public right-of-way in California. The article summarizes lessons that should be learned and applied to any future public-private partnerships for toll roads.
I would love to get a little dialog started about the positive and negative effects of a federally condoned toll-road policy. Here are some that I can think of off the top of my head. Post if you have any more that I missed:
- risks for road construction and maintenance are shared between public and private orgs.
- faster road construction due to revenue backed bonds verses pay-as-you-go will respond to market shifts quickly and more efficiently
- force single-occupancy vehicle drivers to consider carpooling/vanpooling if congestion pricing is used and is not based on number of passengers.
- higher tolls on heavier freight vehicles could mitigate the structural impact these have on the infrastructure
- potential "subsidies" for public transit vehicles would encourage increased ridership.
- congestion pricing would instigate triple convergence effects even quicker.
- if public transit is not represented at the negotiation table when toll revenues are distributed, most of the positive impacts will be negated. Those who use public transit should not be "double taxed" through the fare and the toll.
- try to convince the trucking industry, who is already struggling with the increase in gas prices, that they should not object to a further and potentially dramatic increase in costs.
- local roads will experience heavier traffic as people avoid paying tolls.
- if tolls are only allowed on corridors in which they are collected, we may result in coffers overloaded with funds and a reverse inefficiency. In addition, if tolls are transferred to the general fund, we will see a boom of pork projects that have no relation to their funding source. Overall, donor and donee relationships should be very carefully regulated and monitored.