Seven Reasons Toll Roads Are Essential
February 8, 2012
Seven Reasons Toll Roads Are Essential To the Future of American Highway Transportation
Provide Private-Funded Options for Easing Congestion,
Less Stress, Monetary Benefits for all Drivers
By Gary Hausdorfer
In 2010, congestion cost Americans $101 billion, according to the Urban Mobility Report (UMR) released in 2011 by the Texas Transportation Institute out of College Station, Texas. Drivers had to travel 4.8 billion hours more than they would otherwise and purchase an extra 1.9 billion gallons of fuel.
How do we solve this growing burden on our nationwide transportation system and every individual who uses it?
With state and federal budgets severely impacted by the recent recession and built-in deficit spending that doesn’t seem close to being solved anywhere, there is little hope for government funding of new roads, much less improving existing highways in meaningful ways to reduce congestion. As a result, there is an emerging trend of states looking to finance congestion relief through the use of toll road options, such as converting high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes to high-occupancy toll roads (HOT), through public-private partnerships (P3). To summarize the facts: toll roads reduce congestion, save commuters’ time and money, create safer driving environments, improve fuel efficiency, and support business growth.
In looking at where our nationwide highway system is today and where it needs to be in the future to meet increased demands as the population and economy grow, seven key factors emerge.
Toll Roads Can Be Built at No Cost to Taxpayers
The original concept of toll roads was to raise funds for highway upkeep by placing the burden on users, rather than local taxpayers. Today public agencies offer long term concession leases to private companies to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the roadway as a toll road. Projects are financed through private debt and equity financing, which is repaid through toll revenues. At the end of the concession period, often as long as 50 years, the roadway is returned to the public authority. The model works and has been replicated in several states including California, Texas, Virginia, Florida, Colorado and South Carolina.
Technological Innovations Ensure Free Flow Traffic
Most toll roads today use new technology that eliminates delays and ensures the free flow of traffic. Instead of slowing down to pay, drivers either pay with an electronic transponder connected to a prepaid account or by having their license plate recorded by a high-speed camera that provides digital data the operator uses for calculating and delivering monthly bills.
Saving Commuter’s Time and Money – on Toll Roads and Off
Annually, drivers across the nation waste an average of 36 hours in traffic according to the Urban Mobility Report, or about one week of vacation time per motorist. Projections in Southern California show drivers could waste 250 hours a year stuck in traffic by 2025 if new roads aren’t built – over six weeks of time or $4,000 using the UMR cost. When drivers take the toll road option, they reduce traffic on the interstate highways and major community thoroughfares – a benefit to all.
According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study, toll facilities in the United States have a much lower fatality rate than U.S. roads overall. Less traffic and congestion create a safer environment for all drivers. For example, the 91 Express Lanes system in Orange County, Calif., provides road side assistance teams that respond in less than seven minutes. Free-flowing traffic reduces accidents. Since 2007, the congested State 91 Freeway has had 53 percent more accidents on the main lanes than in the Express Lanes.
Toll Roads Reduce Pollution
In the latest UMR, American motorists wasted an average of 28 gallons of fuel annually while stuck in traffic. In fact, sitting in traffic and wasting fuel increases green house gas and other emissions. Reducing traffic congestion and the extra auto emissions that go with it will improve local air quality. .
Increased Fuel Economy
In addition to reducing pollution, toll roads allow vehicles to move at more fuel efficient speeds. Studies show that the optimal speeds for efficient fuel consumption are between 45 and 60 miles per hour, speeds rarely reached in stop-and-go commuting traffic where speeds are typically 20 miles per hour or less. For the driver with a daily commute of 40 miles round trip, annual fuel costs would be $1,400 at $3.50 a gallon and 25 miles per gallon fuel economy. The cost would jump 66.7 percent to $2,333 if gridlock reduced mileage to 15 miles per gallon.
Benefits to Businesses
According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, travel delays impose huge costs approaching some $40 billion annually on motorists, truckers and shippers. Using toll roads help save businesses’ time and money by positively impacting productivity and economic vitality, according to a report from the U.C. Berkeley Institute for Transportation. Beyond the impact of lost productivity for individual drivers, businesses face major costs when dealing with traffic gridlock. Sitting in traffic can result in large delays, missed shipments and higher operating costs.
Currently, more than a dozen states around the country are looking at converting HOV to HOT lanes and another 25 states are planning or already underway with new toll roads utilizing P3s. These public-private partnerships promise to help ease gridlock in several major metropolitan areas. More government agencies need to seriously consider the promise of the P3 concept to ensure our road transportation systems grow to meet the future needs of our country rather than subjecting drivers to stressful, expensive and unnecessary congestion everywhere.
(Editor’s Note: Gary Hausdorfer is CEO of Cofiroute USA, an industry pioneer in managing and operating sophisticated toll collection systems and managed lanes in the United States. Headquartered in Irvine, Calif., it is backed by the global resources of its parent company, Cofiroute S.A., which manages more than 50 percent of the toll roads in France, and is a part of the VINCI Group, the largest publicly-held construction and concession company in France, with annual revenues of $45.7 billion (€ 33.4 billion) in 2010 and 190,000 employees in more than 100 countries.)