After more than a year of wrangling over the much-criticized Sakonnet River Bridge toll, Rhode Island lawmakers announced last June that they had created a long-term solution for financing Rhode Island’s roads and bridges that would avert the need for the toll.
[alert type=”muted”]See also: Rhode Island’s Future: Raimondo toll plan deserves progressive support[/alert]
Raimondo put the potential for tolls back on the bargaining table in a weekend Associated Press story about the poor condition of many of Rhode Island’s roads and bridges — and the uncertainty about future federal highway funding.
“We need to take a comprehensive look at solutions, everything from public-private partnerships to tolling,” Raimondo said.
While tolls are a reasonable way to fund road and bridge maintenance, its hard to see how this can happen. As I undertand it, the Federal government will not allow any new tolls on the interstates. Thats too bad because a toll on I-195 in Providence where we just spent almost $700 million for relocating the road could bring in a lot of revenue! And we know from the Sakonnet fiasco the ferocity of political oppostion to new tolls by those who want to use expensive infrastructure but not pay for it. (I know first hand from testifying for the tolls with a crowd of opponents in the audience!) There is also aprobklem of diverting traffic to alternative routes. So where could tolls actually go? Route 4 just south of I-95??
As we need revenue, tolls send a signal to carpool, use transit, or chain trips, and out-of-staters will help pay (as RIers do when they use certain highways and bridges in NY, MA, NH. ME etc) they shouldn’t be “off the table” but I’d like to know how they can be instituted.
Electronic tolling allows strategic policies that may build local support and soften opposition, if the Feds come around.
Tolls at a small number of points fall disproportionately on drivers who live near them. They encourage detouring onto local streets. Instead, the scheme should charge per mile, over the entire limited access highway system, by metering every entrance and exit. A through traveler from one state line to the other at a non-rush hour should pay say, $6. Driving several miles, a few exits, would cost pennies to a small number of dollars.
Importantly, prices are increased at times of congestion and paralell transit services are upgraded!
Best of all would be the promotional campaign enticing through travelers to stop and eat or shop here. Participating restaurants and shops could offer, in exchange for a minimum purchase, a toll discount to out of state travelers. All a shop would need is a properly configured EZpass reader. Drivers without an EZpass would obtain a paper voucher that they could use when paying their toll by mail.
The Pennsylvania Turnpike works like that. My parents sometimes lost their ticket, and had to pay the whole amount. You learn fast!
I am not sure that it is true that the Federal Government won’t allow new tolls on interstates–The new HOT lanes in Northern VA into DC would belie that rule. But i think it is harder to earmark federal money for tolls, perhaps that is what Barry is referring to? Here’s a pretty good history of toll roads in the US http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/infrastructure/tollroad.cfm
HOT lanes are one exception to the rule. FHWA also allows tolling of existing interstates to pay for new construction elsewhere under the Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program. I believe this is the program under which Rhode Island applied to toll I-95 at the state lines and was rejected.