Will Toor and Mike Salisbury at the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project have put together a good paper called Managed Lanes in Colorado (it’s a PDF) that looks at the policy rationale behind (and a few issues with) creating additional highway capacity in the form of managed lanes with tolling, that also allow high occupancy vehicles and transit to take advantage of the investment, addressing some of the “Lexus Lane” criticism of using tolls in the public right of way (on projects that are still mostly publicly funded). It’s not quite as fun to read as my magnum opus from this winter on the same topic (US 36: For Whom the Road Tolls) but might be more appropriate for forwarding to policymakers.
Orange County’s toll roads are unable to pay their own way, leading the state of California to investigate whether their administrative agencies are viable as a going concern. Obviously the situation is complicated by the fact that there are public highways (I-5 and I-405) that duplicate some of the connectivity of these tollways, but their financial duress would seems to suggest that when people actually have to pay, directly, to use freeways… they’re far less interested in footing the bill than when we socialize the resource, and force everyone to pay. This isn’t very surprising, but it does get one thinking: just how much of our infrastructure would we have never built if it was transparently priced? How many hundreds of billions or even trillions of dollars have we wasted on a polluting, oil dependent, dangerous, city destroying, obesity inducing means of transportation? If you’re going to subsidize something at the scale we’ve subsidized automobiles, you better be darned sure that the externalities that come along with it are positive! Hopefully this will serve as a wake up call to the beltway developers around Denver.