Highways deserve a free-market solution

Congestion and old roads in the U.S. are problems, and drivers waste some 3.6 billion hours and 5.7 billion gallons of fuel in delays and traffic jams. But the answer isn't to further burden all drivers and the economy by raising the gas tax, says the Wall Street Journal.

A better idea comes from Mark Kennedy, a Republican representative from Minnesota, whose Freeing Alternatives for Speedy Transportation Act, or FAST, would repeal the 1958 prohibition on interstate highway tolls. (The few that exist were grand-fathered at the time.) With the ban removed, a state (or private entity) would be able to collect a driving fee in order to finance interstate expansion and additional highway lanes.

FAST has several virtues that avoid the worst flaws of existing toll roads, says the Journal:

  • First, the fees would have to be collected electronically, reducing those toll-booth traffic jams and the need to hunt for small change in your car.

  • States would be able to impose a toll only on new priority lanes, and only for as long as it takes to finance those new lanes in the corridor; government couldn't turn the tolls into permanent money-raisers for any spending purpose.

  • Most importantly, FAST would return control over highway projects to local officials, who are better placed than Washington to know which roads need upgrading.

    With the money going to the right places (rather than pet projects), traffic flow will improve.

    This idea will not be popular with environmentalists who hate new roads on principle, or with liberals who think special, fast, toll lanes will favour "rich" drivers, says the Journal. But a universal gas tax hits the poor harder than it does the rich. Like the many private toll roads that now exist, these fast-lane tolls would only hit drivers who voluntarily choose to use them.

    Source: Editorial, Life in the Fast Lane, Wall Street Journal, June 18, 2003.

    For text (WSJ subscription required)

    For more on Highways and Mass Transit http://www.ncpa.org/iss/bud/

    FMF Policy Bulletins/24 June 2003
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