NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Texans Pushing Back Against Toll Roads

June 18, 2015

At one time free marketers spoke of toll roads as if they would be the answer to congested roads and urban gridlock. No longer. The thinking was that government does not seem to do anything very well, and that included building and maintaining the roads.
The proposed private sector solution was toll roads. Private companies would build them and maintain them, and would charge for the privilege of driving on them. Libertarian-leaning thinkers even envisioned a vast system of toll roads replacing government-built roads.
It was perfect. People would pay for usage and most or all of the tax money we give the government for road construction and maintenance could stay in our pockets.

But that thinking seems to be changing, at least in Texas. Companies that build and operate toll roads have proposed a number of new ones and the public seems to be pushing back.

  • First, the government (state or local) typically invests the private sector toll road companies with significant power — and those companies often act like it. There have been multiple news stories of mismanagement problems with the North Texas Tollway Authority, and yet there seems to be little the public can do about it.
  • Second, more recent contracts appear to be indefinite. When what was called the Dallas-Fort Worth Turnpike was built decades ago, it provided a quick connection between the two cities where there had been none. People paid the toll to travel on the turnpike, but after the investment had been returned, with profit, the company turned over the road to the state, which means no more tolls.

None of this is to say toll roads are bad. The primary problem seems to be that state highway departments — in this case TxDOT in Texas — have entered into some poor contracts that may have ceded either too much authority or profit to the toll road companies.

Source: Merrill Matthews, "Have Toll Roads Become 'Troll Roads'?" Institute for Policy Innovation, June 16, 2015. 


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