[freedomtowernight_edited.jpg] 26th Parallel: Widening Our Roads For Profit

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Widening Our Roads For Profit

An interesting article came out in today's Sun-Sentinel regarding a plan which would widen I-595, Broward County's main east-west thoroughfare, with privately-operated toll "express" lanes.

For those of us who have grown accustomed to the government running our highways, this is quite a shift. Can we be surprised, however, to think that a project overseen by a private venture would get completed in about a third of the time as a government-run operation, at the same cost?

Me neither.
Drivers using the express lanes would pay a toll that would go up at rush hour to keep the lanes from clogging. The concept, called "congestion pricing," relies on simple economics: The higher the price, the more likely some drivers are likely to use the regular travel lanes or drive at a less congested time of day.

I-595's toll express lanes would feature high-tech overhead sensors that eliminate the need for gridlocked toll plazas. The regular lanes of I-595 would remain toll-free but more crammed than the free-flowing express lanes.
Although I would love the idea of a well-developed mass transit system covering all of South Florida, the government doesn't exactly have the best track record in this regard. The express lane concept is appealing simply because it gives us a choice. If we're in a hurry, we can pay a little extra. If not, then take the slow scenic route. No need to pay mandatory tolls every 5 miles if that's your preference.
While Donna Guthrie likes the idea of having the option of paying a toll for a swifter drive, she's not so sure about letting a private company control the road's purse strings.

"I'm not too keen on a private entity owning something that is traditionally a government responsibility," said Guthrie, who uses I-595 in her daily commute from Fort Lauderdale to Coral Springs.

"I would take advantage of the express lanes, but I wouldn't use them all the time if it's going to cost me. If I'm late to work or if I'm headed to the airport, then I might use them."
That's the point.

There's always a risk of private companies over-charging and taking advantage of the consumers, but that's where competition comes into play.
If the state gets a favorable reaction from investors and contractors in May, then it could hold a public hearing this summer and begin the process of seeking qualified firms. By February 2009, a firm could be chosen and construction would begin that year.

The firm would design, build and finance the entire project. Over the course of the lease, the firm would be responsible for any maintenance or improvements necessary to keep traffic moving at acceptable speeds.


Although the firm would retain the ability to raise tolls on the express lanes, the contract could include penalties if the road isn't maintained to state standards. It could also include language that provides a way for the state to share in the profits generated by the tolls, said Robert Poole, a Broward resident who heads the transportation studies division of the Los Angeles-based Reason Foundation, a libertarian think-tank.

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