Friday, October 7, 2011

Wisconsin Toll Roads?

I grew up not liking toll roads. Why? Because my primary experience was with the toll roads in Illinois. The roads were in horrid condition (and always under construction - a strange combination) and the traffic was always bottled up because you had to stop every few miles and toss coins in the booth. In the years since, I have been to lots of other states with toll roads, and in those states, the roads were in good condition, and they had figured out how to collect the money without interrupting the flow of traffic.

Today I read an article about bringing toll roads to Wisconsin. It initially brought me flashbacks to digging through coins to go through Chicago. Then I finished reading the article, considered the points presented, and decided to give it a second look.

Roads cost money to build and maintain. Raising that money can come from a variety of sources. It is not unreasonable to expect the people who use and benefit from the road to pay for its construction and maintenance. It is actually seems pretty much in line with the idea of "user fees" that Libertarians suggest instead of taxes. I think that I could get behind the idea of toll roads here in Wisconsin under a few conditions.
  1. The gas tax (which is part of the current system for raising money for road repair) needs to be decreased. No double dipping into my pocket. Calculate the percentage of the current gas tax revenues that are allocated for the freeway system (the roads being considered for tolling), and the gas tax must be decreased by AT LEAST that amount. People in this state are feeling a pretty powerful pinch at the pump, and this would bring immediate relief.
  2. Open road tolling needs to be a part of it. The technology is already in place for it. People using the road on a regular basis should not have to deal with the nuisance of all sorts of stupid delays while everyone digs for change.
  3. The system must be able to pay for itself. The cost of collecting revenue plus the cost of maintaining the roads must be covered by the tolls and not require further subsidizing by taxpayers. If it can't do that, it's not a good system, and we shouldn't be using it. After it's up and running, there should not ever again be a dime out of the state or local budgets to run this thing.
  4. The funds raised must be segregated from the general fund. Toll money shouldn't be going to anything else.
If all of these conditions can not be met, then we have no business going any further. If they are met, then it will prove the viability of a privately owned and operated freeway system.

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