A chance for Smart Highways By Allan Holmes

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A Chance for Smart Highways

By Allan Holmes



Barack Obama said last month that he wants to spend billions of dollars on building new roads and repairing those that are worn out. If Congress passes spending on highways, it could provide an opportunity to invest in technology that could reduce traffic congestion. In a New York Times Op-Ed on Tuesday, Steven Dubner argues for charging a floating fee to use certain highways based on the amount of congestion on the road. As the traffic increases, so would the fee, which theoretically would keep traffic to a level that allows for a reasonable flow. He writes:
Pilot toll projects on roads (like the I-394 in Minnesota and the I-15 in Southern California) use sensors embedded in the pavement to monitor the number and speeds of vehicles on the facility.
A simple computer program then determines the number of cars that should be allowed in. The computer then calculates the level of toll that will attract that number of cars -- and no more. Prices are then updated every few minutes on electronic message signs. Hi-tech transponders and antenna arrays make waiting at toll booths a thing of the past.
The bottom line is that speeds are kept high (over 45 m.p.h.) so that throughput is higher than when vehicles are allowed to crowd all at once onto roadways at rush hour, slowing traffic to a crawl (more on how this works in a minute).
Dubner discusses the fairness of the policy, including the facts that the tax-paying public already has paid for the use of the highways through taxes, that the floating-fee freeways would become "Lexus lanes" as lower income drivers were forced off the highways when fees were too high to afford, and that the "free" roads and byways would become more congested as drivers flooded onto those roads to avoid the pay-to-drive highways.
But Dubner says plan on hearing more on this topic because the technology is there to make it happen.

But the roads won't ever be free if a toll system is implimented and in fact they will only be for the rich unless there is no other path to travel. I agree that taxes in troubled times are difficult but we as taxpayers need to agree on what is paid for out of which pool of money. I agree with the state of MA who recently voted against a personal income tax government in some areas are to large and need to be controlled. So what is important? Healthcare? Public roads? National Defense? Politicians salaries? Pork Barrel Spending? Building Military Bases in Iraq? It is time for the population to be responsible for the actions of our nation instead of sit back and watch television. After all WE voted our politicians into office and we can vote them out.

Joe Ronzio 01/09/09 04:27 pm ET
Just like taxes, fees never help the situation. Why would we want to hurt economic activity to curb traffic. Here is a novel idea---build the roads wider to allow for more people. Find a tax to pay for it, like the gas tax, which is supposed to provide for this but gets siphoned off by our most brilliant beaurocrats for other pet projects. Better still, get a civil engineer to develop ideas for how to improve infrastructure, not a politician. Keep the politicians out of our medicine, information technology, and the highways.
Scott 01/08/09 09:39 pm ET
Charging for systems that taxes are supposed to cover and have historically covered just goes against the grain to me. If we are going to start charging for use of highways, garbage pickup and any other incidental that was paid from income or property tax then why have the tax to begin with? If our infrastructure is use for charge then be honest and remove the taxes and people can pay for the service. But the population is double and triple hit in most locations. In Oregon we pay an income tax, property tax, gas tax, medical provider tax and there is discussions of turning the major highway system into a toll road to pay for a local bridge. The income hasn't changed but more is being taken out to pay for services each day. If you want to charge then be honest and remove the taxes.
Joe Ronzio 01/07/09 03:17 pm ET
True, taxes built the highways for everyone's use, but nobody wants their taxes raised, so how do we maintain these "free" ways? By allowing those folks who can afford the increase fees to pay for them, we effectively tax the rich and the end result is maintained highways, which the poor folks can use, just not at rush hour. Seems to be a pretty good deal to me, free highways if only I can plan to use them at the times when congestion is minimal. Nuisance, yeah, until I adjust, but no higher taxes and good roads in exchange. Hmmmm.
Dennis Miner 01/07/09 01:04 pm ET

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