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View Full Version : Highway tolls as (unintentional?) class warfare?


jfoobar
05-29-12, 04:18 PM
OK, so I heard this story on the way to work this morning on news radio:

http://wtop.com/46/2882286/Some-love-the-new-ICC-in-Md-but-few-use-it

If you are not from the DC area, all you need to know is that the ICC is a new highway built where one was desperately needed (no previous good route from point A to point B at all) that took years of legal rangling, injunctions, lawsuits, etc. to get built.


Some love the new ICC in Md., but few use it

By KATHERINE SHAVER
The Washington Post

WASHINGTON - Since opening last year, the Intercounty Connector has provided thousands of Maryland motorists with their first direct, congestion-free drive between Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

Gleeful drivers say the highway has cut up to a half-hour off their east-west trips between the busy commercial corridors of Interstates 95 and 270. But six months after the latest stretch of the ICC opened, concerns persist about the cost of such convenience _ in traffic noise, pricey tolls and projects passed over in the face of the ICC's $2.56 billion construction costs.

What many people _ fans and critics alike _ notice most about the ICC is what's missing: cars. The 18.8-mile road feels strikingly empty. During a recent morning rush, there were long stretches of open asphalt _ a rare find in the often bumper-to-bumper Washington region. Motorists complain that so much open space makes it easy to drift over the 55-mph speed limit. The Maryland Transportation Authority, which operates the ICC, is reviewing calls to raise the maximum speed.

Montgomery County Council member Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville), a longtime ICC critic, said it's frustrating to watch a new multibillion-dollar highway go under-used. He attributes the empty feel to high tolls, which are up to $4 one way during rush hours for cars and up to $30 one way for the largest trucks.

"You have I-270 that's a parking lot many days carrying 10 times as many people as the ICC," Andrews said. "It's just a reminder of how that (highway construction) money could have been better spent."

For Justin Brown, the six-lane road saves 10 minutes on his morning bakery deliveries to a Giant grocery store off I-95 and a Safeway off Briggs Chaney Road. Brown said he takes the ICC daily to avoid traffic jams on Route 29. He said it's well worth the 70-cent toll to travel even one exit.

"For my business, being on time is of the essence," Brown said Thursday during a hurried stop at a McDonald's near Beltsville.

Harold Bartlett, the MTA's executive secretary, said vehicle volumes are right at _ and in some segments above _ expectations for the six-month mark. In April, an average of 30,000 vehicles traveled the ICC's western portion and an average of 20,000 vehicles used the eastern half on weekdays, he said. Last year, the state projected a weekday range of 19,700 to 26,900 vehicles for April, an MTA spokeswoman said. Those projections closely matched estimates made in 2009, before the first part of the ICC opened in February 2011, she said.

Bartlett said it will take at least three years for traffic to ramp up as motorists grow accustomed to using the ICC. The highway was designed to carry traffic volumes projected for 2030.

"I wouldn't want to spend $2.5 billion for a highway that on the day you open feels full," Bartlett said. "I want to build a highway with enough capacity for the future growth I know is going to occur."

Bartlett said the state will raise tolls as needed to keep the ICC flowing freely.

But motorists such as Natalie Sando, who lives in the Derwood area of Rockville, said the tolls are already too high. Sando said she finds the ICC convenient three days a week to get to a human resources client near I-95, but only because her company pays the $4 toll each way.

"That's $8 a day" in tolls, Sando said as she waited at a Starbucks drive-through in Burtonsville. "That's crazy."

AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman Lon Anderson said he expects that motorists will gradually warm to the idea of paying to avoid the free but slower east-west routes: the Capital Beltway or indirect and narrow local roads.

"If you need to get from I-270 to I-95 fast in upper Montgomery County," Anderson said, "it's a bargain."

The ICC has cut the morning drive between Rockville and Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport by an average of 15 minutes compared with that of local roads. It beats the Beltway route by an average of 34 minutes, according to a recent analysis by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments....


The TL;DR version is this:

1. Big fancy toll road gets built that can save someone traveling east-west on the north side of DC a massive amount of time, but round trip will cost you $8 a day.

2. Volume on the new road has been much lighter than most expected with the cost of using the road certainly a, if not the, major factor as to why.

3. The Maryland Transportation Authority likes that it is very lightly used and plans to raise tolls even higher to ensure that it stays that way should too many people start using it. The radio story I heard included a quote that made this exact point pretty strongly.

If you have ever lived in DC, you would know that traffic here is among the very worst in the country with many thousands of people enduring painfully long commutes to get back and forth to work. So they built this road that would help many of these people spend less time driving but they have deliberately priced the daily use of this road out of the realm for affordability for many of them, and fully intend to keep it that way.

Combine this with the already inherently regressive nature of fuel taxes and it is hard to see this as anything else but a road for wealthy people. And this in a state that is one of the most Democratic-leaning in the nation.

Thoughts?

(FWIW, I have no dog in this fight. I don't have a commute that takes me anywhere near the ICC).

koops
05-29-12, 09:14 PM
Cough los angeles cough

DVD Polizei
05-29-12, 09:32 PM
Oregon and Washington are wanting to charge a toll on the "new and improved" I-5 bridge that will more than likely be wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy over budget.

If it ever gets built. Hell, they might just make it a dual-bicycle lane and street beggar lane crossing, and just forgo the vehicle part altogether, knowing Oregon.

Tracer Bullet
05-29-12, 10:58 PM
Too bad they didn't spend that money on rail.

DeputyDave
05-29-12, 11:27 PM
Too bad they didn't spend that money on rail.

:lol: Always good for a joke.

And to answer the OP's question: Yes, and sometime it isn't unintentional. here in San Deigo the Coronado bridge had long, long been a toll bridge. It was just a buck but enough to divert people to other "free beaches". After some investigation it wa learned that the bridge was only allowed to collect a toll in order to pay for it's construction and the bridge had been paid off years ago. When the plan was advanced to remove the toll residents of Coronado fought tooth and nail against it. Their reason? It kept "the riff raff" off of the island.

Groucho
05-29-12, 11:32 PM
Interestingly we had a similar commuter highway built here (as an option for the overcrowded interstate). The net result was the same: people stayed on the Interstate, and the new highway was barren.

The difference? Our highway didn't have a toll. It seems that when people scream for a new road like this to reduce traffic on the Interstate, everybody intends that "somebody else" will take it. :lol:

creekdipper
05-30-12, 01:18 AM
Highway tolls are a right-wing conspiracy to depress the vote.

printerati
05-30-12, 01:42 PM
"That's $8 a day" in tolls, Sando said as she waited at a Starbucks drive-through in Burtonsville. "That's crazy."

Remind us how much that cup of coffee costs, bitch. The cost of the toll is likely offset by the gas you aren't burning while sitting in traffic, to say nothing about the time savings.

If you want to talk highway robbery, let's talk Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Dash
05-30-12, 02:32 PM
Interestingly we had a similar commuter highway built here (as an option for the overcrowded interstate). The net result was the same: people stayed on the Interstate, and the new highway was barren.

The difference? Our highway didn't have a toll. It seems that when people scream for a new road like this to reduce traffic on the Interstate, everybody intends that "somebody else" will take it. :lol:

Wait we have a commuter highway here in Salt lake? where?

Groucho
05-30-12, 02:37 PM
I'm talking about the Legacy Highway.

Ky-Fi
05-30-12, 03:52 PM
Whew, am I glad I live in Massachusetts. Sure, we pay a toll to use the Mass Turnpike, but we were explicitly told that the tolls were only temporary until the turnpike construction was paid for. Hmmm....seems like that would have been paid for by now.....several times over, when you think about it......

General Zod
05-30-12, 04:06 PM
Class warfare which way? I thought I remembered reading that they were going to sell the iPass on the cheap to residents that were low income. That's probably the only folks on this road.

Hokeyboy
05-30-12, 04:22 PM
My commute is about 30 minutes a day. If a new road cut 15 minutes off that time, and if I had to pay $4/day for the privilege... I'd do it. Easy. :up:

Mabuse
05-30-12, 06:24 PM
This story sounds a lot like the 73 toll road here in Southern California. It was built to relieve pressure on one of the busiest, most congested freeway interchanges in the country by going around the interchange entirely. It cost billions to build but was mostly a financial disaster. Many people avoided it because it was percived (and was) a speed trap, tolls were high, to make up for shortfalls they keep raising the toll which only results in fewer drivers. To top it all off it took so long to build (over 10 years) that by the time it was done, the interchange that it was bypassing had been substantially fixed so the time savings was negligable.

Also, we have toll lanes out here that fluctuate with the time of day, so that peek drive times are sometimes $20. The rest of the country should not complain.

grundle
05-31-12, 11:43 PM
When the demand for any good or service exceeds the supply, the most effective and efficient way to solve that problem is to raise the price. Many cities around the world have been using congestion pricing for quite some time to reduce traffic. Sitting in traffic wastes time and money, and also harms the environment, and congestion pricing is a great way to address these problems:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congestion_pricing

mosquitobite
06-01-12, 08:16 AM
My commute is about 30 minutes a day. If a new road cut 15 minutes off that time, and if I had to pay $4/day for the privilege... I'd do it. Easy. :up:

$4 each way, $8 a day

Hokeyboy
06-01-12, 08:21 AM
$4 each way, $8 a day
Yes I know. Still worth it.

mosquitobite
06-01-12, 08:22 AM
Yes I know. Still worth it.

Must be nice.

DeputyDave
06-01-12, 09:07 AM
Must be nice.

No shit. That's an extra $160 a month added onto gas. I couldn't do it without some pain.

Tracer Bullet
06-01-12, 09:23 AM
(insert gloating about my transportation costs here)

jfoobar
06-01-12, 09:37 AM
When the demand for any good or service exceeds the supply, the most effective and efficient way to solve that problem is to raise the price. Many cities around the world have been using congestion pricing for quite some time to reduce traffic. Sitting in traffic wastes time and money, and also harms the environment, and congestion pricing is a great way to address these problems:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congestion_pricing

That's one way to look at it. However:

1. From the sounds of it, the ICC is nowhere near being congested.

2. With #1 in mind, they are deliberately pricing the road to ensure that more people sit in traffic, waste time, hurt the environment, yadda-yadda-yadda.

3. If I am a lower-income person living in that area, some of my tax dollars went into building that road, toll repayment scheme notwithstanding. When the government (which is not supposed to operate based on the laws of supply and demand anyway) deliberately prices a public road out of my price range with an excessive usage tax, I think I have some grounds for being upset about it.

RoyalTea
06-01-12, 10:01 AM
lower income-people live in Montgomery County, MD?

jfoobar
06-01-12, 01:47 PM
lower income-people live in Montgomery County, MD?

Quite a few, actually. Also, the ICC serves as an excellent conduit by which folks coming down from Baltimore or up/over from PG/AA counties to commute to the plethora of jobs along the I-270 corridor.

fujishig
06-01-12, 02:40 PM
Isn't SoCal going to do paid access to HOV lanes for single drivers, with tolls dynamically varying on how highly used they are (I think the target speed they want is 45mpg)? I still have no idea how they're going to enforce that... they'll have transponders in every car that the driver has to switch to indicate whether he's multi passenger or single passenger, but how will the cops know?

wendersfan
06-05-12, 11:04 AM
(insert gloating about my transportation costs here)
Hey, Doc Martens aren't cheap, and I go through a pair every 2-3 years walking to work each day!

;)

classicman2
06-05-12, 12:27 PM
Hey, Doc Martens aren't cheap, and I go through a pair every 2-3 years walking to work each day!

;)

I go through a pair of Feraggamos about every 2 years. ;)