NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 8, 2004

Toll roads are gaining popularity as a possible solution to the traffic jams spreading across the country. The number of cars, pickup trucks, buses and motorcycles on U.S. roads surged more than 20 percent during the past decade -- 10 times the growth rate in road mileage. And fuel taxes traditionally used to pay for highways aren't bringing in enough money to fix existing roads -- much less build new ones.

Now, in addition to a hodgepodge of local mass-transit projects aimed at easing the crunch, almost a dozen states are turning to toll roads:

  • In Florida, the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority is erecting an elevated, toll expressway whose $350 million cost is being financed with revenue from an existing toll road beneath it.
  • Missouri transportation officials want to put tollbooths on Interstate 70 all the way from Kansas to Illinois, using the money to rebuild and expand the aging highway to six lanes from four.

Texas, which has been passing toll road legislation since 2001, is especially committed to toll road development. Over the next 50 years, the state is planning a transportation network which will include truck-only toll lanes, rail lines and high-speed freight trains:

  • In cities such as Austin, the population has increased by almost 50 percent, but only 2 percent of the population uses mass transit.
  • Moreover, current gasoline taxes alone cover less than 40 percent of Texas' road building needs.

While most drivers are keen to the idea of paying for less congestion, not all are willing to pay tolls to do so. Truckers and other businesses that rely heavily on driving to earn a living already feel they're paying enough from gasoline taxes.

Source: Daniel Machalaba, "Highway Nirvana, at a Price," Wall Street Journal, July 6, 2004.

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