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Thread: Toll roads?

  1. #1
    Jul 2006

    Toll roads?

    Both private and public owned toll roads.... what are the disadvantages?

    Thanks in advance for any comments or replies.

  2. #2
    Aug 2005
    Funky Town, CO.
    My experience with toll roads is rather limited. I occasionally drive on the newer toll road around the northwest part of the Denver metro area (Northwest Parkway) if I want to avoid the traffic on the freeway. This toll road is a pain because if you don't have a transponder you have to stop every 4-5 miles and pay the toll. The toll is now $2.00 at every toll booth for a car or about 50 cents a mile. This toll road is not meeting volume expectations and the bonds have been down graded. They may even be junk by now. On top of all of this the toll road had an agreement with local governments that limited up-grading of local arterial roads in an effort to force drivers onto the toll road. I expect the toll road will go bankrupt in the next 5 years. Who knows what will happen then. Its taken some of the air out of the argument for more toll roads in Colorado.

    My other experience has been with the Kansas Turnpike Authority (KTA). I think this is a quasi-governmental authority with the power to issue bonds, enforce traffic laws and and to take property via eminent domain. This toll road has been in place for 40+ years. This road is part of I-70 in eastern Kansas just west of KCK. You only have to stop when you get on and again to pay the toll when you get off. I traveled on it this past summer and they maybe charged about 7 cents per mile. Maintenence and snow plowing is typically better on the KTA than on the state maintained Interstate system. Perhaps because the ROW was obtained and the road developed when things were much cheaper it helps keep costs down for the KTA. However they also have 150 miles of roadway in a very rural area between Wichita and Topeka with low volume traffic that can't bring in much revenue.

    In the current political environment in Colorado it will be very difficult for a private toll road to get built. The issue of eminent domain has rallied the property rights folks and new laws will make obtaining ROW more difficult and/or more expensive. With other toll roads very near to financial failure it will be harder for private roads to get low rates on their bonds.

  3. #3
    Like any complex engineering/social/planning project, it depends on the specifics (more below).
    To answer your question specifically, disadvantages can include:
    1. environmental justice - additional road cost adds disproportionate burden to low & middle-income families
    2. environmental - road construction of any kind encourages development, absent stringent land use controls. By reducing long-distance travel times, they can foster low-density, single-use development (sprawl)
    3. social - because toll roads by nature control access, they physically separate communities. They are often built above ground level, and reduce intersections with other streets, reducing communities' opportunity to travel to neighbors or business directly across the roadway.
    4. economic - toll roads cost around 10% more to design and build than a freeway because of the toll gantries and high-speed standards.

    Of course, all of these potential disadvantages can be weighed against advantages. A huge potential that is often not discussed is the use of toll funds after the construction bonds are paid off. Do the roads turn free, or is the additional revenue used to fund, say, light rail, streetcars, bike/ped infrastructure, affordable housing? In other words, God is in the details.

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