NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 28, 2007

The average driver in the Los Angeles area spends the equivalent of more than two workweeks each year stuck in traffic.  But "congestion pricing" -- where tolls vary based on the time of day and traffic -- are keeping traffic moving along a 10 mile stretch of Orange County's State Road 91, says USA Today.

Congestion pricing is a fair and effective idea for fighting gridlock. It employs basic economics by letting price find the balance between supply and demand.  And thanks to high-tech tracking systems, it need not involve the bane of conventional toll roads -- the traffic-inducing toll plaza.

Congestion pricing has other advantages as well:

  • It helps finance road expansion; revenue from congestion pricing can help pay for expensive road-building projects -- the toll lanes on California's SR 91, for instance, were built at no cost to taxpayers.
  • It encourages public transportation; with roads currently funded through a variety of sources, driving is subsidized, which discourages people from using rail and bus systems, and makes building new ones less practical.

Opponents of congestion pricing say that it adversely affects businesses such as trucking that rely on cheap use of the nation's highways.  True, says USA Today, but congestion already exacts a heavy toll on drivers:

  • In 2003 it cost $63 billion in lost productivity and additional gas, while motorists spent 3.7 billion hours stuck in traffic, according to a Texas A&M study.
  • These costs are on top of the 18.4-cent federal gasoline tax and other taxes that states and localities use to fund roads.

Source: Editorial, "Gridlock takes a toll," USA Today, February 28, 2007.

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