Friday, March 03, 2006

More Tolls in Hampton Roads' Future?

John M.R. Bull with the Newport News Daily News reports that a bill to establish tolls on five Hampton Roads bridges and tunnels easily cleared a House committee Thursday. The bill would create regional bridge-tunnel authority that would have the power to impose tolls with rates based on the time of day and day of the week -- presumably varying with the level of congestion.

Tolls would be imposed on five facilities: Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel, the James River Bridge, and the Downtown and Midtown tunnels. An estimated $190 million a year in toll revenues would back bonds that would pay for a series of mega-projects favored by Hampton Roads political class. The tolls likely would remain for a generation or longer, legislators said. (Yeah, just like they did for the Dulles Toll Road -- whoops, make that two generations!)

Bull reports that legislators expect the bill to pass the House, then go back to the Senate for negotiations. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine supports the idea of a regional tolling authority in the abstract, but has not yet blessed this bill.


At 11:36 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Here is a case of those that benefit will pay for what they get. I'm OK with this.

But in a larger sense the entire state will benefit. Accordingly the state should take on part of the bill and not have all the money for new construction come out of bonds supported by the tolls.

At 12:18 PM, Blogger Lucy Jones said...

I can hardly wait to see what happens when they raise and lower the tolls for time of day and day of week. Wonder how many workers will switch to the graveyard shift? That might just work! What a clever idea to reduce rush hour congestion...

At 12:33 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Congestion pricing will cause people to change their time of travel. I wonder how many will drive in early and then sit in their idling cars drinking coffee and reading the papers.

It may even cause some people and business to change their travel permanently - by moving.

But you can count on it that the tolls will be set to maximise income, not to reduce congestion.

At 5:22 AM, Blogger Larry Gross said...

We're staring at the future of road policy.

The more cynical among us will see this as a way to maximize profits for those operating the toll facilities but I would posit that the worse than could happen would be even a more severe damping down of congestion where both ordinary drivers and the trucking companies will be taking into account the direct consequences of their decisions to use the roads at particular times and places.

The other benefit to this that I don't think folks are recongizing is that Companies will get into this game when they realize that their employees - BOTH existing and prospective will be INCLUDING the cost of the TOLLs in their decision to become and/or remain an employee.

This will, over time, I predict, cause the companies themselves to look more closely at where they locate.. whether or not to have satellite locations and even to look more closely at their tele-work policies.

Who knows.. companies.. like retailers, may actually start to look at demographics in deciding where to locate. In other words, locating closer to where a good pool of potential employees already live might become a factor.

And ... a REAL dreamer might envision a day where a company recruits it's employees by telling them that good housing is close enough so that employees could actually walk or bike or ride the company shuttle bus to work.

Eureka! what a concept!

The trick here is to more closely align the COSTs of decisions to the interests of those making the decisions and move away from those costs being absorbed taxpayers and those without direct financial interests.

At 2:21 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

I don't know enough about traffic in Norfolk to comment, however, I don't imagine the shipyards and Navy bases are going to move.

Those places are so huge that walking is not much of an option, even within the facilities.

The company shuttle bus is a variation of Jitneys, which may make sense.

In the end though, people will want pleasant affordable accommodations. They will still average ten trips a day, and work related trips will be two of them. In London, some businesses have already planned to move out, but by and large the costs will simply be integrated into daily life and business costs.

Although the bridges are local, this is a state level project, and the state should bear some of the burden. I expect there will be caps on the amount of profit the operators can take. But if the purpose is to back bonds for other projects, we can still expect the pricing to be set to maximize revenue, and not to minimize congestion.

The tolls will be many times as efficient as the situation in London. There, the administrative costs are half the take. In this case, the tunnel authority will not have to provide the bridges and tunnels, which already exist and have been built with public money. All that is required is to accept bids for what is an administrative task, unless the authority is also going to take over maintenance of the facilities.

This could be worrisome. Either the state need to have heavy oversight to protect its investment, or we are likely to see the authority scrimp on maintenance of a facility they don't own.

If we send this form of tax collection off budget by outsourcing it to private enterprise, then it will make the kind of discussion being carried out by Jim Bacon and Jaded JD much more complicated. How will we ever know how much government is costing us?

It will take decades to determine if this plan is a success, and without a valid baseline the results will be open to interpretation (spin) for a century.

Maybe it will take some of the heat off of the "Big Dig" in Boston.

At 3:40 AM, Blogger Larry Gross said...

Toll Roads have tremendous potential to generate revenues.

Take a number like 80,000 cars per day on a road like I-95 and let's assume that all of the cars get 20 mpg and average 50 miles daily.

They'd generate maybe 70K per day in gas taxes.

Take the same scenario and calculate a toll of $5.00 per day and you'd get about 400K per day in revenues.

The calculation is very rough and a LOT of variable factors involved but I'd say the potential to generate a minimum of 3 times the revenue is probably conservative and the annual yield would approach more than 100 million annually in additional funds.

This is serious chump change at a minimum that, in theory, could be plowed back into improvements.

At 1:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live in Virginia Beach. I do everything within my power to avoid going to Hampton and Newport News - because of the unpredictable tunnel traffic. If I start getting charged to go to these places, I will NEVER go - NEVER.

The ONLY reasonable way to get from Va Beach to Hampton is via the HRBT. There is the roundabout way via 664, but that takes an extra 30 minutes from where I live. Only rarely is HRBT traffic sooooo bad that an EXTRA 30 minutes is worth it.


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