It’s no secret that as cars get more fuel efficient, they pay less tax on gas. That means less money available to repair roads. One solution to this long term problem is tolling, which is apparently being considered for truck/bus lanes on I-70. The I-70 truck lanes are part of the USDOT’s Corridors of the Future initiative.
It seems unlikely to me that four truck lanes could really be added through downtown Columbus, Indianapolis, and St. Louis. I wonder if the truck lanes will be bypassing the city via the south Outerbelt (I-270)? That would provide a much-needed capacity expansion and complement truck demand at Rickenbacker. Even better, the tolls should be able to finance it. Aren’t user fees great?
Pay lanes could pave way on I-70
Wednesday, December 17, 2008 3:18 AM
By Debbie Gebolys
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
Pay lanes on highways could be in central Ohio’s future.
Recommendations outlined yesterday by U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters that are separately being studied by a state task force focus on new ways to pay for projects.
A new lane of I-70 reserved for trucks and rapid-transit buses is an idea already being studied by four states and federal transportation officials. The lanes would cut congestion because they would be run by private companies that charge a toll for any other vehicles to use them.
“It’s just one of the proposals of how we can think differently,” said Chester Jourdan, president of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission. “It could ease rush hour and build a revenue source.”
Jourdan is on a task force that will recommend next month how to reorganize the state transportation department and solve its funding problems.
Peters was in Columbus to lay out her plans for the Buckeye Institute, a free-market public policy research group. Her remarks came 10 days after President-elect Barack Obama said his administration “will create millions of jobs” by making a big investment in public-works projects.
Peters cautioned against pinning economic recovery hopes on government spending.
“Just throwing more money at the problem is not going to fix it,” Peters said.
In Ohio and nationwide, people are driving less than they have in decades. That means lower gas-tax revenue. Americans drove 8.9 billion fewer miles in October than in October 2007, she said. The 3.5 percent decline was the sharpest of any October since 1971.
Ohioans drove 3.6 percent fewer miles in October than the year before, she added.
Over the last 10 years, Peters said, transportation spending more than doubled but congestion quadrupled. Part of the problem is that the government doesn’t require a cost-benefit analysis, resulting in projects that don’t necessarily make sense.
“In Minneapolis, you can ride a bike to the airport,” Peters said. “Should federal dollars pay for that?”
Declining tax collections and rising costs are a dilemma for the proposed I-70/71 reconstruction project, among others nationwide. In the planning stage for roughly a decade, it’s still quicker than the national average of 13 years for a project to work its way through the process, she said.
At inception, cost estimates were $300 million to $400 million. More recently, state transportation officials estimated that it will cost $1.2 billion.
Peters has met several times with Obama’s transition team, she said, and hopes some of her reform ideas will survive after she leaves office in January.
Sam Staley, senior fellow at the Buckeye Institute, said Peters’ ideas are nonpartisan.
“This will definitely survive the Bush administration,” Staley said of toll lanes. “The concept is being widely applied across the U.S., with two dozen projects already in the process.
“It’s an idea whose time has come,” he said.