The future of toll roads in America appears to be on the upswing again with emergence of new collection technologies that can reduce the use of pay booths that slow down traffic and force motorists to search the seats for exact change.
Even Arizona is debating the idea once more as a way to deal with a growing gap between available tax revenues and highway construction needs, Tribune writer Garin Groff reported Sunday.
Currently, there isn’t a single pay-as-you-go road in Arizona. So committing to our first will be an enormous political mountain to climb. Former state transportation director Mary Peters told Groff she believes Arizona isn’t ready to embrace this wrinkle in the relationship between government and private enterprise, and she’s paid by a private engineering firm to promote the concept.
But our mindless opposition needs to shift to a serious review of the options for toll roads, or toll lanes attached to general-use highways.
A June transportation summit in Phoenix highlighted how road construction just isn’t keeping pace with population growth and economic demands. The reason is simple. Gas taxes don’t provide enough revenue to maintain existing highways and build new routes fast enough.
Maricopa and Pima counties have adopted special sales taxes to supplement construction revenues. But large portions of this money has been directed to light rail and other mass transit that serves mostly commuters, not business deliveries or cross-state travelers.
Toll roads and toll lanes have the advantage of taxing only those who use a specific roadway, which forces designers to think long and hard about placing such roads where they will generate the most use. Planned wisely, toll roads can quickly reduce traffic congestion on nearby traditional freeways and surface streets and improve the driving experience for even those who don’t want to pay tolls.
Arizona shouldn’t consider toll roads to accelerate existing construction plans, as that would result in an unfair double taxation for motorists. But tolls could be the best way of starting some highway projects that otherwise will exist for decades only on someone’s drawing board.