Too Much of a Good Thing

Congestion tolls are coming to the Washington metropolitan region: The big question is whether they will be one piece of a patchwork approach with modest ambitions or the underpinning of a massive, region-wide plan to raise billions of dollars for transportation priorities, mainly mass transit.

Plans are already in the works to use congestion tolls to pay for construction of new lanes along the Interstate-495 Beltway and Interstates 95 and 395 in Northern Virginia, and the Intercounty Connector in Maryland. Now in a new report the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board is exploring the idea of imposing variable pricing tolls on all major highways and parkways in the region, not just transportation arteries where new lanes can be added.

As Eric Weiss explains in a Washington Post piece, regional transportation planners see no other option for keeping the roads moving. In an ideal world, congestion tolls would pay for new two-way lanes, as is planned for the Beltway and I-95/395, but in most cases the cost of acquiring the land for expanded roadways will make the cost prohibitive. Meanwhile, more money isn’t forthcoming from state governments. The only realistic alternative, the planners contend, is to impose tolls on roads that motorists now ride for free and to plow the money — as much as $2.75 billion a year — back into mass transit.

Tolls would range in price from $.20 per mile to more than $2 per mile for some stretches of road during periods of peak demand — even more for crossing Potomac River bridges

In the abstract, this a Bacon’s Rebellion fantasy come true. If new highway capacity is too expensive to build, use the price mechanism to ration it and incentivize drivers to utilize transportation alternatives from mass transit to telecommuting. Ideally, the incentives would be so powerful that they could stimulate meaningful shifts to move transportation-efficient human settlement patterns as well.

However, there are major political obstacles, not the least of which is the fact that people tend to be hostile to tolls imposed on roads and highways they once drove for free. Additionally, while the study contends that the preferred “DC and Parkways Restrained” plan would not impact any demographic group disproportionately, it does suggest that the tolls would stimulate a significant relocation of jobs within the region. A shift in jobs would create changes in land values and the tax base of different municipalities. Inevitably, the plan would create winners and losers among municipalities and within the politically influential developer/home builder community. Just as inevitably, as soon as the potential losers understand what’s a stake, they will start agitating against the proposal.
Click on this image for a close-up of a map published in the report. The flesh-colored areas designate where jobs will be lost — primarily in the inner ring of “suburbs” around the District of Columbia — and where jobs will be added, primarily in the urban core and outlying areas along the metropolitan periphery. Where the jobs go, property values will follow. Not only would the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board plan impose $2.75 billion a year in tolls upon a reluctant citizenry, jurisdictions such as Arlington and Alexandria would come out big losers. Are the elected representatives of those communities likely to support a plan with such an outcome?

Another stumbling block: A massive shift of the job base westward to Loudoun County and western Fairfax may not be what many Virginia smart growth advocates have in mind.

Bacon’s bottom line: As much as I am a huge fan of market-based solutions to transportation, this plan strikes me as overkill. The $2.75 billion-a-year cost exceeds the total $2.331 annual congestion cost for the Washington metropolitan area (as calculated by the Texas Transportation Institute). That’s plain crazy! This plan would apply a machete where a surgeon’s knife is called for. I can’t conceive of a plan like this winning public support.

There is definitely a role for congestion pricing in addressing the transportation needs of the Washington region, but the strategem needs to be applied selectively, and the public needs to be persuaded that it has an ameliorative effect before it can be rolled out on a regional scale. Furthermore, although the authors of this study did examine the impact of the tolls on land use patterns, they did not consider the reverse: how changes in land use could make the tolls work more effectively. As Ed Risse ceaselessly points out, there needs to be a balance between the travel demand generated by land uses and the transportation capacity planned for those land uses. I could detect no sign of such a sensibility in the study.

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  1. Anonymous Avatar

    If you look in the report, the chart you have for jobs shifting is entirely based on the factor of changes in accessibility over the 2005-2030 period. That makes absolutely no sense since jobs correlate very little if at all with accessibility. If it were true you would have all the green in areas like PG county where there isn’t a lot of inbound traffic.


  2. Anonymous Avatar

    “The $2.75 billion-a-year cost exceeds the total $2.331 annual congestion cost for the Washington metropolitan area (as calculated by the Texas Transportation Institute). That’s plain crazy!”

    Yes, and that’s IF you think this plan will eleiminate ALL of the congestion.

    What will really happen is that you have $2.75 billion in costs for the toll roads and still have half or 3/4 of the congestion cost.

    You won’t get 2.75 billion for transit because this won’t fly. To the extent it does fly, most of the money will go to (foreign) contractors.

    Crazy pretty much sums it up.


  3. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    well.. I was waiting for EMR or Bacon to delve into the idea of removal of a location variable subsidy… and what effect such a thing might have on settlement patterns.

    right now – no one pays the actual cost of maintaining and building roads.

    But most already agree that some folks get “more” for their money than others…

    So.. it would seem to me that value pricing/congestion pricing is one way to address the equity issue of more closely aligning what one uses with what one pays.

    Say you want to drive 50 miles a day but you can do it outside of rush hour…

    in the congestion pricing scenario – everyone would pay MORE – to basically catch us up to what we would/should have been paying if the gas tax was adjusted for inflation.

    But even adjusting the gas tax for inflation would not have addressed the issue of WHEN and WHERE one drives that also affects costs.

    Congestion pricing.. allocates those costs in proportion to the when/where of usage.

    In comparison, the mileage tax that Bacon advocates -does not do that.

    You get charged per mile no matter when/where you drive..just like with the gas tax.

    Isn’t Congestion Pricing a better “fit” to dealing with the actual location variable when/where costs?

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    I find it interesting that the proposed toll plan would cause a loss of jobs in and around Tysons Corner. Yet, the Tysons Corner Task Force is planning to add development for as many as 100,000 new jobs at Tysons.

    Which is it? Tysons cannot gain jobs and lose jobs at the same time. Neither can planners look at more than one variable at the same time, apparently.

    Living in NoVA becomes more and more like living in a Twilight Zone episode.


  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Reading the report is interesting on a number of different levels…

    the impact to land-use and jobs.. is for sure…

    … but the region-wide plan is really pushing the envelope.

    It’s like a cordon toll with interior “spokes” and you get a new toll every time you cross a toll boundary.

    .. and remember.. the Feds have a direct stake in this.. after all.. they’ve funded 1.2 billion of financing… and Mary Peters is a toll zealot par excellence.

    What’s going to definitely get the attention of all the elected – region-wide – is the idea that they _could_ generate multiple Billions per year in new funding rather than go begging to the GA for a TA that .. if all the needles are threaded correctly – will generate 300 million…

    tempting.. tempting…

    you get a sustained funding source for Metro…

    ditto for VRE.. commuter rail

    you get money to expand metro…

    you get to fix all of your bottlenecks and hot spots…

    you might get to do more BRT…

    anytime there is THAT much money dangled in front of politicians… watch out!!!!

    The Environmental community is not unified on tolls and Hot Lanes nor is the Smart Growth community.

    it’s ought to be one heck of a ride…


  6. Anonymous Avatar

    “But most already agree that some folks get “more” for their money than others… “

    They do? On what basis? Number of miles driven? Weight carried? Value of the property under the roads they drive on? Probability that they will encounter congestion and waste time and fuel?

    If you average the costs over seven million people, how much can someone get “gypped”, really?

    Congestion pricing allocates the price, not the cost. If we allocated according to cost, we would charge more for rural roads. If we charged according level of service obtained, we would charge more for rural roads. If we charged more for the level of services provided, we would charge more for roads near shopping centers and schools.

    In the congestion pricing scenario – everyone would NOT pay MORE – to basically catch us up to what we would/should have been paying if the gas tax was adjusted for inflation. Just those people that have jobs in the core areas.

    “value pricing/congestion pricing is one way to address the equity issue of more closely aligning what one uses with what one pays.”

    Again, I ask, on what basis do you charge for what you “use”?

    How, exactly does WHEN and WHERE one drives affect costs?

    Congestion is a when and where phenomenon that offers a convenient excuse for extorting more in the form of price, but it isn’t clear how it affects the actual costs of maintaining the roads.

    A per mile tax obviates any incentive for conservation: If I’m going to pay by the mile, I might as well drive a tank.

    The fuel tax gets you by weight and mileage. It is already in place. It is a user pays system. Figure out how high it needs to be and get it over with.

    Then we can figure out something better – maybe.

    Nothing else seems to be working.


  7. Anonymous Avatar

    You are not going to get billions. The contractors will get most of it.

    That kind of price tag will make NOVA far less attractive, so some of it will eveporate.

    And even if you do come up with some excess money, where is the user pays justification for taking gross amounts from auto drivers and giving to Metor riders? Some, sure.

    Gross amounts, like billions? Surely someone will raise a ruckus about paying more than their share.


  8. Groveton Avatar

    I would stand in line to vote “yes” for congestion tolls in NoVA under the following conditions:

    1. The GA gives up all rights to tax any NoVA residents or businesses for any transportation funding.

    2. The GA freezes the non-transportation transfer payments from NoVA to elsewhere at current levels forever.

    3. NoVA is responsible for all costs of all roads in NoVA.

    4. Federal funds for transportation are distributed based on population. NoVA gets its population-based share.

    5. There is an elected NoVA Transportation Authority which will determine the sources and uses of transportation funds.

    The GA has miserably failed the citizens of NoVA. I am happy to have them permanently gone from any involvement in NoVA transportation issues. Apparently, “user pays” only counts when the “users” are in NoVA. Fine. Get the GA out of NoVA transportation and we’ll make our decisions, raise our own funds and set our own priorities. We will then become the 46th state to recind at least parts of the Dillon Rule. We will then become the 46th state to figure out that a centralized state legislature has NO CHANCE of ever effectively managing the disparate needs of different regions in that state.

    Let’s face it – Virginia has never been too quick on the uptake. Virginia has always taken too long to see the obvious.

    Death to Dillon.

  9. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I guess there are different ways to think about this but one is certainly that congestion tolling allows NoVa to proactively deal with the future – as opposed to waiting …hat-in-hand for the RoVa and the GA to take their sweet time .. to produce something.. and even then.. will they produce what NoVa needs?

    The other urbanizing areas in the state may actually have more to lose if the TA path does not get legally sorted out.

    Apparently the Dems are after a statewide gas tax increase and the Pachyderms want to salvage the TA’s .. “somehow”.. great confidence does NOT emanate …

    A statewide gas tax IMHO won’t do squat for NoVa in terms of money because.. the first 250 million of it gets instantly sucked into maintenance…and that’s that the first 5 cents…

    hard to imagine 10 or 20 cents gas tax… the poor pachyderms that supported it would be mortified with the loss of their “no mo tax” credentials at the next election.

    We’re watching history being made here.. for better or worse… but the same drama is being played out in Texas, Pennsylvania, Washington State, Rhode Island, NYC and New Jersey to name a few.

    All these states are going through the same calculations with respect to future funding and the numbers are pointing to tolls …

    the only thing holding most states back.. is fear of a backlash (which is real).

    most states are realistically thinking in terms of the gas tax for maintenance and new roads from tolls and unless the Dems get the White House and pass a massive gas tax increase – and without it, you don’t have to worry about the Fed money… projected to dry up in 2009.

    another thing that will accelerate the move to tolls is when/if the first commercial plug-in car is delivered.

    If that happens.. there is going to be a stampede.. of states abandoning the gas tax as a viable revenue source.

    The day is fast approaching when every car will have an EZpass transponder…

  10. Anonymous Avatar

    Maybe, but we don’t have it yet, and won’t have it for years yet.

    When we do, it won’t calculate for weight, which will be a negative incentive for conservation.

    While we are at it, we can have it calculate speed and distance between toll stations and write automatic speeding tickets.

    But we don’t have it yet.

    Meanwhile, pass the gas tax and get on with it.


    “congestion tolling allows NoVa to proactively deal with the future “


    Read the report. There is no money in it, unless you hand over presently free roads to the contractors. It is a net loss deal otherwise.

    Here is what congestion tolling does. It lets you still enjoy nearly the same amount of congestion and pay the tolls. some people will pay the tolls and enjoy the ride, everyone else gets the same old same old, and it isn’t going to get fixed.

    It can’t get fixed, because it would put the toll operators out of business.

    It can’t get fixed because there won’t be enough money, if there was, EPA won’t approve the roads, and if they did there is no place to put them.

    $100 billion in new metro stations and some kind of EMR people movers might fix some of it.

    But the best way to fix it is to get some of the businesses out of there, which strangely enough, tolling will do.

    This plan is like the hybrid flowers with a suicide gene so you can’t propagate them.


    I can easily imagine a $0.50 cent gas tax. Europe has more than that. Or go whole hog and spend a gazillion bucks to put in a full transponder easy pass system.

    But stop thinking small and do it tomorrow.

    This is the time for really grandiose schemes. Something that will spark the imagination. It’s a job for EMR’s pie-in-the-sky, platform cities over the rail station, kind of thinking. And right now it wouldn’t be such a bad WPA kind of thing to jumpstart the economy, which is moribund from fear and the “we can’t do this, can’t do that, must be inclusive, green, and PC, never mind the profits” kind of thinking.


    what IF we have commercial plug ins, fuel cells, wood pellet steam cars, compressed air, flywheel, or antigravity cars? So what? Put a meter on the fillup device, and get on with it. We can deal with that when it happens, but right now we still have gas pumps.

    You will need a lot less meters than you will transponders and readers. Not to mention privacy issues, if anybody still believes privacy exists.


    “would be mortified at the loss of their credentils”

    Which is more mortifying, doing what needs to be done and taking credit for it, or paralysis out of fear for your job? You really believe that doing nothing out of fear for your job is a good career choice?


  11. Groveton Avatar

    “The day is fast approaching when every car will have an EZpass transponder…”.

    So far, it sounds like every car in NoVA an no cars anywhere else.

    The tolls when established in NoVA will have to be on all major roads in NoVA – not just congested roads or HOT lanes. Or, NoVA will have to sell the roads to contractors (many of whom will be foreign) and take the money from the sale and plow it back into transportation.

    We need a state constitutional amendment authorizing an elected NoVA Transportation Authority with power to levy taxes and make transportation decisions. I’d hope that group would use referenda whereby the voters could make the truly momentus decisions themselves. It would be good to see an elected group that could show the voters all across Virginia how the General Assembly ought to behave.

  12. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: EZPass…

    Many folks like myself keep a transponder even though I may not use it for weeks/months.. but when I do take a trip to where I know there are toll roads (even like in Richmond), taking it is a no-brainer simply because NOT stopping at the toll booths IS a major convenience.

    Now think about that .. in the context of I-95 being the East Coast Mainline with everyone from Montreal to the Florida Keys, at some point, making their way over the Wilson Bridge.

    Think also about the daily rush-hour commuters from jurisdictions outside of NoVa.. driving into NoVa and using it’s road capacity – for free – if they buy their gasoline where they live.

    From my own non-resident visitor to other urban areas perspective.. paying a toll to get through an an unfamiliar urban area “easier” is a no-brainer.

    The cost is trivial… you pay a few bucks .. you stay out of the toll booths.. and you don’t get mired in some daily local gridlock nightmare…

    Right now.. many folks do like we do.. no one who is trying to transit THROUGH the DC area on their way to somewhere else – purposely times their trip to coincide with rush hour…

    or perhaps some folks do.. but I have no sympathy for them…

    If I HAD a CHOICE between trying to time my arrival in an urban area to NOT coincide with rush hour OR use EZ Pass to fork over a few dollars for a reliable trip.. I’d sure like that option and I think most folks from outside the DC area would also.

  13. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: regional governance and NoVa and RoVa.

    Some folks would say that Virginia and it’s Dillon-rule Constitutional philosophy is an dinosaur in terms of regional governance.

    Additionally, the separation of cities from counties presents further complexities to regionalism.

    But I would say that at least part of the success of Regionalism in NoVa is the Feds… yes the Feds.

    The Feds recognized regional communities of interest based upon jobs, commerce and commuting with – Census-designated MSAs and the Feds subsequently put into place a governance/decision-making structure/framework – for transportation planning – the MPOs.

    Further .. not well known is that there are TWO kinds of MPOs based on population and MPOs the size of the TPB have much more control over the use of Federal Funds whereas the smaller MPOs are subservient to district VDOT offices.

    It is also interesting that Virginia DID recognize the need for some level of Regional cooperation because they actually created the planning districts PRIOR to the Feds using MSA/MPOs IIRC.

    But their perspective/focus seems much more limited than MPOs – I guess some would say – different – but the fact that MPOs, Planning Districts, and VDOT district offices all play int he regional game but with different boundaries is not a plus.

    All things considered, without MSA/MPOs..methinks NoVa may not be where they are right now but then I bet if you asked RoVa.. they’d see it as an unwanted Fed intrusion that empowers NoVa in ways that they are not supportive of.

    Nothing could be more illustrative of this divide than the difference in mindsets between NoVa and HR/TW on Regional Governance issues – in my mind.

    HR/TW considers itself to be an urbanized region of RoVa whereas NoVa clearly marches to their own drums.

  14. Anonymous Avatar

    “So far, it sounds like every car in NoVA an no cars anywhere else.”

    That’s pretty much the point, regardless of what Larry says. There will be millions going about their business at no additional cost.

    Meanwhile, in NOVA, most people will get no relief, from present congestion.

    We will have a system to ration access to certain areas, and as a result, some will conclude the trip isn’t worth the cost.

    This effectively lowers the value of the destination, and makes other destinations more competitive. We could do that and achieve the same effect without rationing the roadways, for a lot less money. Just buy up some of the destinations, tear them down and return them to urban green space.


    It’s amusing to me that the same folks who think that government rationed health care would be wrong enthusiastically promote government rationed road use.


  15. Groveton Avatar

    Oh, but RH, “free” health care is a right. It’s right here in the Consitiu….”.

    Oh wait, it’s not in the Constitution at all.

    I guess it’s really a decision, not a right.

  16. Anonymous Avatar

    As the Supreme Court notes in Saenz v Roe, 98-97 (1999), the Constitution does not contain the word “travel” in any context, let alone an explicit right to travel (except for members of Congress, who are guaranteed the right to travel to and from Congress). The presumed right to travel, however, is firmly established in U.S. law and precedent. In U.S. v Guest, 383 U.S. 745 (1966), the Court noted, “It is a right that has been firmly established and repeatedly recognized.” In fact, in Shapiro v Thompson, 394 U.S. 618 (1969), Justice Stewart noted in a concurring opinion that “it is a right broadly assertable against private interference as well as governmental action. Like the right of association, … it is a virtually unconditional personal right, guaranteed by the Constitution to us all.” It is interesting to note that the Articles of Confederation had an explicit right to travel; it is now thought that the right is so fundamental that the Framers may have thought it unnecessary to include it in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights.


    W.H. van Atteveldt

    “it is a right broadly assertable against private interference as well as governmental action. Like the right of association, … it is a virtually unconditional personal right, guaranteed by the Constitution to us all.”

    Well, maybe the courts will strike down HOT lanes.


  17. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: sticking it to NoVa drivers and giving everyone else a free ride.

    I guess folks around here have never had the pleasure of paying tolls in a place they visit.

    ohh.. and what is this stuff that some places like DC sometimes get involved in.. what is that thing..??

    oh yeah.. it’s a COMMUTER TAX because those commuters get a “free ride” and a commuter tax would be more fair.

    so folks.. how many cars do ya’ll think travel on NoVa roads that get parked in the evening somewhere outside of Nova?

    then we have this:

    “Meanwhile, in NOVA, most people will get no relief, from present congestion.”

    and then in the very next breath:

    “We will have a system to ration access to certain areas, and as a result,

    —>>> some will conclude the trip isn’t worth the cost.”

    hmmmm.. so you force folks to not drive.. and you still get the congestion…

    brain fart ALERT!

  18. Groveton Avatar

    so folks.. how many cars do ya’ll think travel on NoVa roads that get parked in the evening somewhere outside of Nova?

    317,415 – it’s as good a guess as any.

    Who knows?

    That’s the problem. You can’t engineer the future and then sit back and expect it all to happen the way you imagined. There are too many unknowns and things change.

    The Founding Fathers had it right – get the governance process right rather than trying to write all the laws that will ever be needed.

    The present governance process for transportation in Virginia is clearly not working. What should be done to correct or replace this broken governance process. You know my answer – take the authority for virtually all taxes and spending on transportation out of the state legislature and give it (by constitutional amendment) to the regions within the state through elected authorities.

    The GA has failed for 20+ years at least.

    Time to try a new process.

  19. Groveton Avatar

    Ray –

    America is full of people who imagine rights in the Constitution that do not exist. They want to declare something a “right” so they either ignore the Constitution or hallucinate when reading it. They seem to forget that the framers provided a way to amend the Constitution to add rights. Or, they didn’t really forget the amendment process – they just know they can’t get the support required to pass an amendment.

    There is nothing wrong with legislating health care benefits. There is nothing in the Constitution which forbids such legislation. In many ways it would be a good idea.

    It’s just not a right.

    Once everything becomes a right nothing is really a right.

  20. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “The present governance process for transportation in Virginia is clearly not working.”

    did you mean Virginia AND the rest of the USA?

    this is serious blasphemy.. I hope you realize it.

    Before we know it.. you’re gonna be on EMR’s payroll.. maybe already are… heckfire…

    all that talk about Data Blogging was a devious ruse…

    Seriously… have you got a State that you think does it better?

    oh I know.. I had to go and ruin it.. sorry.

  21. Anonymous Avatar

    “so you force folks to not drive.. and you still get the congestion…

    brain fart ALERT!”


    The HOT lanes will not carry enough people to alleviate congestion, they won’t go many places that are still congested, and most people won’t be able to afford to use them.

    So, some people will use them, most people won’t, much of the area will be as congested as ever, and most people will still be stuck. Only difference is that it will cost the region a bundle, most of which they will never see again.

    Compared to what the daly users will pay, the miniscule amount of money that comes from occasional outside travelers in tolls won’t be enough to fill the potholes.

    This is the wrong solution, and if we are going to subect ourselves to this then it isn’t nearly enough of a solution. Spend a gazillion dollars and put in a major system that tolls everyone, but please don’t insult me by pretending that this is THE solution that has no problems and all upsides.

    The only good thing about this is that a relative handfull of people will avoid 20 minutes or so of aggravation, which will cost them $20 bucks.

    For everyone else it is a bad joke with little benefit and a lot of expense.


  22. Anonymous Avatar


    The constitutional thing was just a reference, mostly as a joke. Right of travel is not guaranteed, but it’s pretty well set by legal precedent.

    As far as the other, I was merely pointing out what seems to be an inconsistency. People aregue that if government controlled health care then it would be rationed and that is a bad thing.

    But if government controls a highway and rations access to it, well, gee, thats a free market system!

    Some people will spin anything, say anything, to promote their agenda, not realizing how silly it looks, or how it undermines the very thing they try to promote.

    I’m glad there are people who think they want to make things better in the world, I just wish they weren’t so bad at it. Today I lstened to an interview with Willie Brown in which he shilled his new book. He made the point that if you want to get things accomplished, you need to form a coalition willing to incorporate ideas of people you don’t agree with. Whatever else you think about Willie Brown, he was right on that score.

    Berlin in 1946 is the extant example of winner take all.

    If I build a childs rocking horse out of an old dead locust and sell it at the church bazaar, then I made something out of nothing that made three people happy: Me, the kid and the parent. I didn’t coerce anybody, and maybe they will pass it along. A hundred years from now someone may look under it and see my name there and wonder who that Ray Hyde lunatic was that built a rocking horse out of frigging locust.

    It’s not much of an agenda compared to creating a whole functional civilization from scratch, but it’s productive, and I figure I can probably succeed at it.


  23. Anonymous Avatar

    Don’t even get me started on the copmmuter tax thing. When my father was a small town mayor he got involved in fighting that idea in another city. The end result was that somebody pulled a gun on him and told him never to come back to the city.

    He never voted Republican again.

  24. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    The core of the proposal is to add new Interstate HOV lanes in the last available r/w in the region – as opposed to adding new regular lanes which which is not an option.

    The designation of the WashMetro Region as non-attainment prohibits adding new road capacity unless it is HOV.

    Second, even if you could build non-HOV or HOV – there is no money for either.

    HOT lanes are essentially selling the excess unused capacity on the HOV lanes to the highest bidders and using that money to pay for the bond money needed to build the lanes.

    That’s actually BETTER than having expensive lanes that go to waste.

    and it’s hard to conceive that with two new lanes PLUS allowing other cars from the non-HOV would not reduce congestion in the short run.

    Over the longer run – there will be more congestion but you’re no worse off than you would have been anyhow because you had no money and even if you did -you could not have added new non-HOV lanes.

    RH thinks this is a nefarious scheme to “force” people to do something they don’t want to do.

    I see it as offering incentives to those who are willing to change.

  25. Anonymous Avatar

    RH thinks this is a nefarious scheme to “force” people to do something they don’t want to do.

    I don’t see it that way at all. I just don’t see it as a solution to the problem. Or the right solution to the right problem. It’s a solution someone is trying to sell – a solution looking for looking for a home. I don’t think the sales pitches being used are either correct or honest.

    As you point out, this is the last available r/w in the region – and new regular lanes which which are not an option. If that’s the case and non-attainment is an issue, then the Next solution is going to be different form this one, so we might as well look for it now.

    The only incentives to those who are willing to change, will be to leave the area. the vast majority of people will not be able to use the new lanes: indeed the entire plan is to PREVENT them from using the new lanes. What “incentive” do they have?

    For the people that do use the lanes, they will have an incentive to forsake car pools. This is predicted by WCOG and it makes perfect sense. The whole idea of the HOT lanes is to save time, if it is worth enough to you. Why would you then waste that time going to pick up a fellow traveler.

    Especially if the surface streets are even more flooded by those that don’t use the HOT lanes: also predicted by WCOG.

    I concede the short term (partial) congestion benefit, but it is going to come with a $2.5 billion price tag. In the long term, you are worse off because you have more congestion AND a $2.5 billion dollar price tag.

    And the Washington area is a non-attainment region. How many ways are there to say this is a bad idea?

    Finally, we see that one of the results is that job centers will move. That is where your congestion relief will come from.

    I think we can do that without giving away valuable public resources to private companies and without taking $2.5 billion out of our pockets. I see money as natural resources, and if it costs more, then it probably costs natural resources. If you gain in value more than it costs, then fine, but let’s just be clear about what is happening.

    We need to go back to the drawing board with a clean sheet of paper and look at the entire system from scratch. Anybody who has a pre-defined agenda, from smart growth to developers, should be excluded from the room until some basic parameters are decided. EPA has already decided one of them by placing a non-attainment status.

    Here is what we’ve got. Here is what we think is happening. Here is what we’ve got to work with. What is the best achievable result?

    It’s like that famous scene in Apollo thirteen where the astronauts were trying to prevent CO2 poisoning.

    They were in a non-attainment area, too.


  26. Anonymous Avatar

    “HOT lanes are essentially selling the excess unused capacity on the HOV lanes to the highest bidders and using that money to pay for the bond money needed to build the lanes.”

    There isn’t any excess unused capacity on the HOV lanes. In the first place, the “unused capacity” you are talking about was created by a command and control fiat. Inthe second place, even with the fiat in place, they already exhibit congested conditions.

    In fact, the HOT lanes planners are frantic to figure out what happens at the terminus. If you cant get the cars off the HOT lanes expeditiously, then there goes the time savings, which s all you’ve got to sell.

    The very first problems the HOT lanes run into will be the same problem HOV lanes have now.


    If you don’t like that argument, then assume you are correct, and there is excess capacity available, which you can sell.

    What does that tell you?

    The “price” of forming a car pool is too high.

    With $2.5 billion dollars we could just pay people to form car pools. In that case, the people who allegedly get the benefit of less congestion, (the ones in the regular lanes) would be the ones paying, and the current losers (the ones in the car pools) would get paid enough to incentivise them to do what is not now cost effective.

    The real idea is to get more people into car pools, not incentivse them to pay to get out of car pools, which is what HOT lanes do. Even MCOG says so.

    And, talk about unused capacity that we can sell, just look around at where all the unused capacity is.

    Really, I think the idea that HOT lanes are essentially selling the excess unused capacity on the HOV lanes must have come from another planet. I just don’t get it. thats one of those ideas that if it’s right, its wrong; and if its wrong, it’s still more wrong.


  27. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    RH – there you go again.. proving you’d be a rich guy if they paid you by the word…

    the “problem” that you speak of is quite simple… there are too many folks who WANT to drive EVERY DAY .. SOLO.. at Rush Hour and opposed to how many people MUST without options.

    You cannot build enough lanes for everyone to do this.

    You ARE limited to what you CAN Build.

    What you are left with – is HOW TO ALLOCATE a limited resource.

    You don’t like the way that they are going to allocate…

    …but you have offered NO reasonable and practical alternative plan..

    your mantra is basically how many different ways from Sunday to say what you don’t like..

    without. offering anything as a viable alternative…

  28. Anonymous Avatar

    “the “problem” that you speak of is quite simple… there are too many folks who WANT to drive EVERY DAY .. SOLO.. at Rush Hour “

    And the solution we come up with is that we will let people break up their car pools because now they can pay to go solo.

    This idea is stark raving crazy.

    Is that short enough?


  29. Anonymous Avatar

    I’m not the one selling the solution.

    It isn’t a question of what I like or don’t like, except, I don’t like arguments that look a lot like mistruths to me. I just think you’ll have more luch selling a solution if its one that makes sense.

    If you incorporate people’s objections in your argument, you might wind up with an argument more peole can associate with, and maybe even a better solution.

    I gave you an alternative – pay people to take car pools, and I suggest it is a lot cheaper than $2.5 billion.

    I gave you an alternative. Take half the pople who are driving solo downtown and point them in the other direction. You can’t build enough lanes there, but you have other lanes going begging. For $2.5 billion you could build office building and give them away.

    My solution is to first go out and take a closer look at what the problem is, and take a fair shot at solving that without bias before we assume some $2.5 billion solution sold on the basis of agenda driven drivel.

    Maybe I’m all wet, and my way of seeing things is bizarre, and I’ am idiot with no sense.

    So explain to me how buying your way out of a car pool solves the problem that too many people drive solo.


  30. Anonymous Avatar

    Look, congestion wastes time, causes pollution and lowers our quality of life. Aside from that we’ve got a pretty nice city.

    Teenage gangster rappers make millions. What have they figured out that the GA can’t? Money, as far as I can see, isn’t the problem. We just don’t like people telling us what to buy.

    So, if congestion is the problem and money isn’t, then how do we go about fixing it?

    With any other source of pollution you would have a tax, or cap and trade system, on the polluter. In this case, it’s the entire city.

    So, if we just admit up front that what we want to do is raise the price of the city until it isn’t so “attractive”, and if we leave off all the mumbo jumbo claptrap about who, what, and why, then we’re almost there.

    Raise the price of everything that contributes to people wanting to go to the city. Let the city pay its full locational cost. Slap a congestion tax on every business that is calulated by how may people they employ times how far they travel – regardless of mode.

    Raise the price on all drivers, and raise the price on metro and VRE. You won’t be able to get high prices for car driving if you are giving away metro rides. It is no accident that the combined cost of parking and metro is about the same as the cost of driving and parking.

    And do the whole thing with congestion credits that you can charge to a device like EZ pass. Just like sales tax is handled as an additional transaction, everyplace you go, you swipe your EZ pass, and it figures your congestion usage, based on the location of your last swipe. No historical records of where you have been for privacy reasons.

    Businesses get a set number based on averages for their size of business. Individuals get them on some average travel basis. If you have extras you can sell them to those that need them whether you are a commuter or a business.

    To begin with, the credits would be generous, and the charges low. Over time you would adjust the avalability of credits and the cost of charges until you achieve the desired results.

    By doing it over time, people will have a chance to adjust. Making it universal makes it egalitarian and promotes the idea we are all in the same boat, working for the same goal. Those that do it smarter will gain and those that don’t will lose.

    Over time you might have to adjust the charges and credits until it becomes revenue producing, until you get down to acceptable congesstion levels, but it would’nt cost $2.5 billion. You can use the money for whatever infrastructure projects will free up the most credits, roads, VRE or otherwise.

    Developers would predict their credit needs and get bonuses /pay penalties if they are not met.

    You don’t stick the cost to a few individuals. You let the idea that some patterns are more efficient than others work, by addressing the entire system. And, the system will collect the data you need to figure out what is REALLY causing congestion in the process.

    This is just a rough suggestion, but it is based on common technology. Many people are already used to swiping their badge to gain entrance. it doesn;t require any particular ideology about what is best – you let that work itself out. If people actually prefer a certain configuration because they make more money, in spite of congestion charges, then OK.

    You don’t force businesses out of town, but if they find it doeswork out better that way, you don’t stop them from moving. If a higher value business moves in, they can buy credits from a lower value company moving out.

    Same for residential.

    With this, you get economy, environment, and equality, all rolled in one ball.

    What have I missed?


  31. Groveton Avatar

    What state does it better?

    From my observations (not statistics):

    New York
    North Carolina

    The only ones I can think of who MIGHT do it worse:

    Washington (state)

    And … I can’t think of any state legislature that seems to be so incapable of turning their thoughts into intelligent legislation.

    Abusive driver fines that only apply to you own residents?

    Federal funds for mass transit that disappear without warning or notice?

    Transportation authorities that turn out to be unconstitutional?

    C’mon Larry – this is a clown show.

  32. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Groveton – well you did offer other states.. credit given….

    and I have to agree.. no one to date in the GA has really taken a leadership stand…much less cover themselves in glory…

    but let’s also be fair – there are no good solutions that do not include more money…and dozens of States are dealing with the same issue and none that I know of have come up with an “elegant” solution.

  33. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: unconstitutional transportation authorities…

    last I heard.. they’re worried that this ruling also invalidates other regional many regional water & sewer and jail authorities…

    however.. I gotta agree in that one would think that if ANYONE understood the Virginia Constitution .. it WOULD be the lawmakers in the GA.

  34. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Support For Transportation Sales Tax Referenda Falls Along Party Lines Among Georgia Voters

    Most Georgia apparently don’t want a sales tax hike to fund transportation improvements in their regions of the state. In fact, most don’t even want to vote on it. That’s according to a March poll conducted by InsiderAdvantage.

    We asked, “Do you favor or oppose an amendment that would allow regions of the state to hold votes in those regions to increase the sales tax in those areas for transportation needs?
    Favor (38%)Oppose (48%)No opinion (14%)

    The poll was conducted March 18 by InsiderAdvantage/Majority Opinion. It sampled 407 Georgia voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 5%. The data have been weighted for age, race, gender and partisan affiliation.

    It can’t be counted as much of a shock that sentiment about transportation tax votes across the state fall roughly along party lines. Democratic respondents favor such votes 48% to 40%, and Republicans oppose them 53% to 31%. Worst for proponents of new transportation infrastructure funding, independent voters oppose these referenda by 53% to 30%.

    So the Legislature is faced with the oldest dilemma known to politics: Do they appear to “favor a tax increase” in an election year, particularly when “no new taxes” is the standard mantra of the ruling Republican Party? The answer just ain’t easy.

    The same poll respondents amplified on their unwillingness for a new tax by sending a loud-and-clear message that they don’t know or much care what’s going on with the Georgia General Assembly this year. Period.

    We asked, “Are you aware of any specific bills in the state legislature that you are interested in or which you significantly support and can you name that legislation?”

    Yes (20%)

    No (80%)

    sound familiar?

  35. Anonymous Avatar

    I think IOWA does a good job.

    The rest stops on IOWA highways are FAR, FAR superior to those in Illinois and Ohio. It’s a small thing, but quality is always in the details.

    “there are no good solutions that do not include more money…and dozens of States are dealing with the same issue and none that I know of have come up with an “elegant” solution.”

    Here’s an elegant solution – more money.

    Like I said, if dozens of teenage gangster rappers can earn millions, when sells for ten million, and facebook for billions, you can’t tell me we have a money problem. Viginia spends more money on chewing gum every year than it does highways.

    We can let the situation deteriorate for anther 20 years. We can watch safety, congestion and pollution all continue to get worse.

    At some point the standard Republican mantra is going to change from “Ooohhhmm, Oooohhm” to “Oh my God,what have we done?” Like the last scene in “Bridge over the River Quai” where David Niven realizes that his mantra of discipline has been barking up the wrong tree.


  36. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “Here’s an elegant solution – more money.”

    Time to weigh in on this idea – Groveton (and others).

    Here’s what is NOT an option – at least according to RH (and to be fair lots of other folks):

    “We can let the situation deteriorate for anther 20 years. We can watch safety, congestion and pollution all continue to get worse.”

    … or we can….pay … “more money”.

    so we all agree – right?

    more money….

    so .. one choice is to total up the costs of all the projects that are said to be needed – across the state…

    Then divided it by the number of drivers to determine how much each driver should pay…then raise the gas tax by that amount such that everyone pays the same share.

    Oops.. I thought that’s what we’ve been doing.. and if not mistaken.. the focus of Groveton’s slam that Virginia has a “dysfunctional” transportation planning process… eh?

    Last I heard.. there was 100 Billion in backlogged projects.

    Let’s see.. one penny on the gas tax generates 50 million dollars.

    ehhh… 100 Billion divided by 50 million…

    zounds! … that’s 2000 pennies..

    how many dollars is that?

    hmmm.. that sounds… ugly…

    how about we spread it out over 20 years… ???

    oh.. but then … inflation will drive the cost up considerably.. probably more than quadruple the “real” backlog.. since the 100 Billion backlog is estimated in today’s dollars.

    geeze… it SOUNDS like we’d have to raise the gas tax by a dollar a gallon (then adjust it annually for inflation)….

    Wow.. this sounds like a solution that most Virginians would support…. if only our elected in the GA had the “guts” to do what is necessary…

    sigh…. here we have the solution right in front of us.. everyone pays.. and everyone gets…

    anyone got a “plan b”?

  37. Anonymous Avatar

    Well, plan Z would be to continue what we have now. Everybody pays for good road service, and only some people get it: the more you pay the less you get.

    Plan B is still more money. It’s just a question of where it comes form. Implcit in Larry’s argument that everyone pays the same share that this is somehow unfair, and he is probably right.

    But it isn’t right to assume that someone who drives 5000 miles a year gets one quarter the benefit of someone who drives 20,000 miles a year.

    The fact is, we don’t have the foggiest idea of what would amount to a fair distribution of beneifts and costs, and we are nowhere close to agreement.

    So the idea that oops, I thought that’s what were were doing is meileading, because Larry knows full well that money comes from sources other than the gas tax.

    If we had a dollar a gallon gas tax, we could reduce all those other sources of funds.

    Meanwhile the congestion, and pollution goes on and increases for which some people pay the bill while others argue about who should pay, not to mention what the right fix is.


    A dollar gallon is $800 a year, roughly, per car.

    100 billion divided by 7 million is over $14,000 per person for everybody in the state.

    There has to be something wrong with Larry’s math. If those numbers are right, we would each have to pay close to a dollar per mile, not per gallon.

    How much of the 100 billion is not for transportation projects? How much of it is not related to auto use? How much of it is for proects that are not needed or will not reduce congestion and pollution? What makes us think that spending on roads is the only way to solve the major congestion problems?

    By Larry’s argument, it wouldn’t matter if you raise the gas tax by a penny or a dollar. It is still wrong because everbody pays and everybody gets (whether they use what they get or not).

    But, if a penny is $50 million, then how many pennies is it to fix the very worst of the congestion problems, figuring that 80% of the problem is based on 20% of the (congested) locations? Or, maybe $100 billion is just thinking way too small, and we need a much biger number to incorporate road projects and relocation projects. Maybe we are thinking way too small. How much have we spent on new infrastructure in Bagdad?

    What is it that the gangster rappers know about raising money that the GA doesn’t? Judging from the lyrics, you’d have to say the the rappers have a better understanding of the hopelessness, antipathy, and even anger some people feel towards the government.

  38. Anonymous Avatar

    We are going to spread this out over 20 years anyway. The fixes can’t be done in five or ten years.

    Considering that we already spread out the problem 20 years, in the making of it, what we are really looking at is 40 years of delay and inflation and unmet needs.

    Boy, I’m sure glad we did this so we wouldn’t have to pass the bill on to our children in the form of debt.


  39. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “A dollar gallon is $800 a year, roughly, per car.

    100 billion divided by 7 million is over $14,000 per person for everybody in the state.”


    It’s $800 per year for 20 years…

    re: “the projects”

    these are ALL road projects. the non-road projects are not in the estimate.

    but you’re right about the revenue sources.

    Only 1 Billion of the 4 Billion VDOT budget comes from the State gas tax.

    and the really bad news is that almost 2 Billion a year is needed for maintenance and it’s going up at around 10% a year.

    Another billion a year comes from the Feds but that money is going away as most of the Fed gas tax is going to be swallowed up by Interstate maintenance.

    This is why the Va Ga was trying to do a combination of real estate and vehicle taxes from the transportation authorities…

    … and taxing real estate and vehicles is something that will not happen in RoVa..

    … it’s even less of a non-starter than gas taxes…

    .. and it does not sound like that idea is going to fly in TW/HR either…

    and .. ironically.. what TW/HR politicos ARE supporting is an increase in the sales tax – the exact thing that their voters convincingly killed in 2002…

    Groveton thinks Va is dysfunctional in Transportation Planning.

    I don’t disagree..but I’ll point out that the average Virginian has no clue about the actual numbers… and many continue to insist that they already pay taxes for roads and should not have to pay more.

    so.. if you’re a politician in Virginia .. what do you do?

    The average Virginian (except for NoVa folks) is not going to go along with increases in gas or vehicle or real estate taxes.

    That pretty much leaves toll roads.

  40. Anonymous Avatar

    It’s $800 per year for 20 years…


    You’re right.


  41. Anonymous Avatar

    OK if it’s $800 a year for every car then how much is it per car if you drop that load on just the tolled cars?

    The idea that you are going to do this with tollroads doesn’t fly either. It’s financially impossible. Especially since you are using the money, not for roads but transit.

    Now there is a brouhaha over which forms of transit. Buses seem to have taken a big hit in favor of longer VRE platforms in Fredericksburg.

    I’m not sure I see how that helps unles they are ALL longer, and BTW METRO faces the same (congestion) problem.

    It’s an outright cry to let ROVA suck still more benefit out of the money that is generated in NOVA.

  42. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “OK if it’s $800 a year for every car then how much is it per car if you drop that load on just the tolled cars?”

    Do the tolls for the Coleman Bridge, CBBT or Powhite Parkway get used for other highway projects?

    Don’t those tolls get retained for use by the tolled facility?

    But the point is that you’re not going to get that 100 million up front from the GA via raising the gas tax.

    No Money or virtually no money even in a 10 or 15 cent gas tax increase scenario because the costs of highway maintenance are sucking up the new money.

    You cannot keep adding new lane miles every year without increases in maintenance costs – right?

    So no money for most new roads – unless they are built like the CBBT – with bonds – that have to be paid back.

    Do we think the GA is going to start diverting general revenue money to pay back road bonds?

    More likely – you put tolls on the facility.

    Then the question becomes – just how needed are some of the roads that are said to be needed if it turns out that folks won’t pay tolls to use them?

    VDOT found out with Rt288.

    Their study on building a new tolled US 460 – indicated that it would not draw enough toll-paying traffic to pay back the construction costs.

    From now on – every proposed new project that is said to be “needed” will be “truth tested” in terms of defining what “need” means.

    If people won’t pay to use it, then it must be more of a want than a need.

    So – many of these projects that are listed in the 100 Billion backlog – will evaporate – when the question about whether they can operate as a toll facility are answered.

    So – the roads that ARE really needed will go forward quickly as toll roads.

    The one’s that fail to demonstrate that they can go forward as toll roads – will wait – either until the GA finds money for them or future studies indicate enough demand such that they’ll “work” as toll roads.

    The bottom line is that there is no conceivable way that the GA is going to come up with a funding plan for 100 Billion in roads and every one of those projects will have to ask themselves if they will wait for a decade or longer for funding or whether they should stop waiting and get built as toll roads.

  43. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “The idea that you are going to do this with tollroads doesn’t fly either. It’s financially impossible. Especially since you are using the money, not for roads but transit.”

    I think you’re confusing whether something can be actually done with whether or not you think it is right to do it.

    Clearly, we’ve already seen examples of tolls on one facility used for other purposes.

    The Dulles Toll Road is a prime example.

    Toll Authorities in several states including Illinois, Maryland and North Carolina have indicated that they intend to operate multiple toll roads as part of a single toll authority and that the money could well be spent on a facility that did not generate the toll.

    The ICC in Maryland.. will be subsidized from other State Toll Roads.

    I believe North Carolina is actually pursuing a plan to use toll road revenues to build non-toll roads – surface streets that cannot be isolated for tolling.

    As per the WaPo story – competing transit agencies are actually fighting for the same road TOLL revenues.

    your claim that it would be “unfair” to use the tolls that people pay on a particular road – for other roads or even transit… may or may not turn out to have “legs”.

    It might depend on a particularly egregious example that explodes in a high profile way ….

    Most folks in NoVa..however, appear to support higher taxes for transit… support Transportation Authorities and I strongly suspect.. would support road toll revenues to be used for transit – though I will admit – it appears the folks in charge have already presumed that they will do this….without bothering to ask the public how they feel about it.

    I doubt very seriously though that NoVa is going to allow any NoVa toll revenues to be spent on RoVa.

    That’s actually a benefit of NOT sending gas taxes to Richmond where shell games are played with re-allocation …

    as Groveton pointed out – how does a place like Richmond, less than half the size of NoVa end up with a 8 lane interstate that runs for 40 miles?

    NoVa wants it own protected sources of revenues that cannot be easily plundered …. yet another argument for tolls…instead of a statewide gas tax.

  44. Storage Alexandria Avatar
    Storage Alexandria

    Thanks for posting. I was just surfing around and stumbled upon your post, I wish more companies invested more in technology so employees can work remotely from their offices.

  45. Anonymous Avatar

    “I think you’re confusing whether something can be actually done with whether or not you think it is right to do it.”

    No, what I mean is that if you don’t think you can rase enough money from ALL the people then it’s hard to argu that you are going to get anything like enough money from a small cross section of those people.

    Now, the going in argument is that we need $800 per year pear car statewide to fix our road infrastructure, but that’s politically impossible.

    So, what we will do is tax a few citizens $1600 a year, which not only won’t raise enough money, but we are going to spend it on something else anyway.

    But that’s OK because we already have examples of “User Pays for Somebody Else”, like the Dulles Toll road.

    My point isn’t that it is impossible to use “User Pays” as an excuse to give someone else money, that much is clearly possible. Wrong, maybe, but possible.

    What’s impossible is to do that and somehow claim it is fixing the states transportation and congestion problem, which is the argument we started with.

    Folks appear to support higher taxes for transit, hoping someone else will ride it and reduce their oust congestion. Utt’s article and the last thirty years of Metro shows how well that works.

    So, after you spend that money on transit you will still have the waste of congestion and the pollution that goes with it.

    It’s one thing if you use auto toll money to fix other auto infrastructure: at least there is a chance you will use it someday. But to Charge tolls based on the argument it is to fix aging road infrrastructure or to supply new, and then give it to transit just shows that the going in argument is a fraud.

    I don’t think I can trust people who argue that way.


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