Private toll roads interesting idea, but not the total solution
December 7, 2007
Imagine being stuck in a traffic jam and looking over to see a new set of open lanes, ready to come to your rescue.
All you need is the golden ticket and you are happily motoring away.
This is the vision being put forward by a study committee created by Gov. Jim Gibbons to look at the issue of privately funded toll roads in Nevada.
The state is looking at this option because there aren’t enough funds to build the roads needed by Nevada’s growing population, and the governor is adamantly against raising taxes to fund such projects. The cost of building new roads has outpaced the taxes used to fund the construction, as the taxes are not structured to keep up with inflation.
On the surface, the idea seems like a winner. The users would pay a toll to use these uncrowded lanes, thus easing congestion for everyone.
But how much does that golden ticket cost? The figure of up to 70 cents per mile toll presented by the committee brings up a lot of questions. Are there really that many people who would be willing to pay more than $10 to drive 15 miles? If there aren’t enough customers to pay the toll, are those companies going to be coming back to the state for a bailout? Who would get custody of the toll lanes should the company go bankrupt?
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There are many general questions as well, such as do these agreements hamper the state should it want to expand the roadway at a later date?
That last concern was the issue that sunk a similar project in nearby California. A private company built express toll lanes in Orange County in 1995, but was later bought out by the county. This happened after the public learned that a stipulation of the business agreement prevented any expansion of the freeway without the approval of the toll company. That put drivers at the mercy of the for-profit company that didn’t want to invest more money to expand the road, since the company had what amounted to a captive customer base.
There are a lot of issues like these to weigh before the state decides to go down this road.
While private toll roads is an option worth considering, it’s not a solution for all of Nevada’s transportation problems. The state must address how it will fund its long-term needs before those needs grow even more out of control.
• This editorial represents the view of the Nevada Appeal editorial board.
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