Friday, April 22, 2011

The benefits and tolls of Toll Roads

As we discussed this week in class there are a number of issues facing every level of government when it comes to financing America's roadways. There is not enough revenue coming in to support our crumbling infrastructure, let alone new projects to update our system. As states look for new ways to raise revenue they are again looking at the prospect of toll roads. Toll roads have a complicated history in the United States and have many advocates as well as detractors.

Currently, just over half of the states have toll roads in some form or another. Here is a breakdown of the miles of toll roads each state has in service:
The highest rates of toll roads are found in Florida, Oklahoma, and New York. Most industrialized countries use toll roads. In fact, the U.S. is one of the lowest rates of toll roads in the world. The implementation often stems from necessity and has sometimes led to negative outcomes in places like England.

The advocates of toll roads argue that implementation allows people who are using the roads to pay for them and internalize the externalities associated with driving. it helps allow for the real cost of a road to be quantified for an individual and evaluated. The people who use the roads, pay for the roads. Most importantly, it is argued that toll roads when laid out properly can capture necessary revenues to maintain roadway infrastructure. 

Detractors argue that people shouldn't have to pay for roads twice because they are already financing them through personal taxes. Also, some studies have shown that people divert their traffic patterns to side streets to avoid paying tolls and increase local traffic burdens. Additionally, charging fees for the use of roads can be regressive because everyone pays the same, which can amount to a greater portion of income from people with less money. 

Publicly funded toll roads can provide municipalities with needed funds for the maintenance and upkeep of our system, but the outcomes have had mixed results and have the potential to financially harm the most vulnerable communities. However, new sources of revenue need to be identified to update the transportation structure of America because - as this graph shows - material costs and the like are continuing to skyrocket.

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