Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Relieving congestion, but at what cost?

You’re entering a major city – let’s say Atlanta – and traffic is moving slowly.

Just when you think you’re going to be late to pick up or deliver a load, an opportunity greets you in the form of a sign. It says you can pay a toll, hop on an express lane, and bypass the congestion.

That’s the concept behind congestion pricing, offering motorists a choice to pay a toll to travel in a faster-moving lane. Congestion pricing is also used to literally price excess traffic off of the roadway.

Starting in 2007, the federal government began handing out grants to major cities like Atlanta to convert managed commuter lanes into tolled express lanes. (In DOT-speak, it involves the conversion of high-occupancy vehicle lanes into high-occupancy toll lanes).

One batch of grants alone totaled $848 million. You have three guesses as to who’s footing the bill, and the first two don’t count.

You are.

Federal grants come from the Highway Trust Fund – your fuel taxes and other fees including the Heavy Vehicle Use Tax.

You’ve already paid for those commuter lanes the first time around, and now you’re going to pay again to have them converted into tolled express lanes.

If you think that’s bad, how about being charged a third time to use them?

OOIDA remains against the use of federal tax dollars to convert existing lane capacity to the tolled variety.

Truckers make up 7-10 percent of the vehicle population but shoulder 36 percent of the money going into the Highway Trust Fund.

Many truckers are at the mercy of “just in time” delivery, which means someone else dictates when they drive and when they arrive. These rolling warehouses do not always have the leeway of avoiding rush hour. Like anyone, they have deadlines to meet.

So will you take that tolled lane in Atlanta once the conversion is completed in 2011? You will have to decide if the cost of paying for that lane three times over is worth it.

Perhaps if enough cars chose the tolled lane during rush hour, things would move along better in the so-called free lanes. But then again, if the free lanes started moving again, the cars would likely move back.

By David Tanner, staff writer


Please see related articles by Land Line:

Congestion pricing coming to Atlanta

Truckers say feds are bribing New York, other cities with toll grants

U.S. DOT grants $153 million to Chicago