17 September 2006 at 9:07:23 AM
I read an excellent piece on Blue Oregon about the principle of egalitarianism that is being destroyed by the push for toll roads, not just in Texas, but as legislative decision in the entire United States.In this instance, we're talking about "Lexus Lanes". I had never heard this term before; doing a search brought up *Lexus Lanes* in a very large number of states, including Texas. High Occupancy/Toll Lanes=HOT. (In Texas, that includes I-10 and US Hwy 290 "Northwest Freeway"-Wikipedia has a list)
(Blue Oregon) Libertarian economists will surely argue this is a just system -- motorists pay for the highways they use based on how much they use them. It’s the kind of argument that could only fool an economist. It might make sense if motorists could really choose when and where they drive. But they cannot. Commuting causes the most congestion. Most motorists have little to say about the time their employers want them at work. Tolling to control congestion just punishes the poor and rewards the wealthy. That is why elected officials eliminated toll roads and created freeways. They are not free, of course, but they are paid for by all of us and available to all of us on a first come, first served basis.
And that is what galls the libertarian economist. The return of toll roads is an deliberate attack on the egalitarianism that every American learns in kindergarten. If you try to go to the head of the line, you are told “no cuts” by your classmates. If you try to push ahead in the cafeteria line, you are told “first come, first served.” If you are caught in a traffic jam, you are told “we are all in this together. Relax, your turn will come.”
Libertarian economists truly believe people willing to pay more should go to the head of the line. Most Americans, however, are egalitarian. They do not believe in an aristocracy of wealth. That is why we prefer freeways over toll roads. And that is why the stealthy effort to return to road tolls will be met with angry opposition when people figure it out is simply a scheme to ration space on the highway for the well-to-do.
The author, Russell Sadler, puts his finger on another aspect of what has troubled me about the Trans Texas Corridor. TxDot has made attempts to say that taking people's land for the toll road is no different than when land was taken for our interstate system years ago. But the difference is this: We all pay for the interstate, there are lots of on/off ramps (Free!) to make it easy and accessible for all to get on the interstate to get places, and the only distinction for driving on it is whether one can afford the gas, yes or no. With toll roads, or even special use HOT lanes, the citizen has been taxed, but only if he or she has extra money to pay for the privilege of driving on that road can it be used.
I think we have to aggressively fight against the idea that is central to toll roads, and being actively pushed by the Republican administration, that we do not have enough money to pay for highways, and thus new roads or lanes *must* be tolled. It is simply a matter of priorities-the government pays an astronomical amount of money every single day on the Iraq War, for example... the Bush administration's priority is to spend money there as opposed to in THIS country. Surely, having highways that are in good repair (or better, excellent mass transportation that benefits all) paid for by our taxes is a bread and butter issue. You can't cut taxes for the rich, and for corporations, and spend money on militarism, (or even on crazy projects like "The Bridge to Nowhere" or a Hooters on the Gulf Coast) and then say there's not enough money for highways.
Here's another purely political reason to be against it. The Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) is touting it. You know, the tiny part of Democrats that, like Republicans, are corporatists instead of being for the people.
Sadler also mentions a disturbing aspect I hadn't heard before and that is apparently in some places (like Washington DC?) the toll rates are not fixed, but change if the lanes become too congested -ie, you can get on, but you'll pay more for it... with the idea that those who don't want to pay the higher rate will stay off.. on the feeders. If that is so, is that part of what Cintra plans for TTC? We already know that they will be the ones to control the rates people pay, because their business is to make money off the travelers.. and they have refused to open up their plans to people in Texas so that we can examine exactly what they propose (first hearing for THAT lawsuit is in October) -Might they also plan to lower or raise tolls based on traffic patterns?
I mentioned the other day that Mary Peters, who is nominated to be Transportation Secretary by Bush, is an active cheerleader for toll roads.. for federal highways. (Side note that it will be interesting to see what Kay Bailey Hutchison has to say about her nomination, given her stance on federal highway toll roads) So, here we have, in Texas, our state government that wants to turn out state highways into toll roads, local governments examining special-use HOT lanes that only those who can afford it can drive on, and what next? Federal highways?
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