Toll Roads in Our Future?
Orange County’s freeways are in bad shape. Some need improving. Others need widening. Some freeways lie unfinished, miles short of where they are supposed to end. Others are just dotted lines on a map. What causes this freeway freeze is a shortage of funds.
Because newer and more fuel-efficient automobiles are using less gasoline and because state gas taxes have not been increased to compensate for that, Sacramento is woefully short of freeway funds. And Orange County voters, as they demonstrated last year in rejecting a sales-tax increase for transportation, aren’t interested in funding transportation needs with more taxes. Still, the reality remains that it’s going to take a significant amount of local participation to build any new freeways in the remainder of this century.
One local revenue source now being debated in the county is the use of developer fees levied against new homes and commercial buildings to help raise money for the proposed San Joaquin transportation corridor.
Another option that should finally be explored is the use of toll roads. To accomplish that, Assemblyman Nolan Frizzelle (R-Huntington Beach) has introduced a bill that, if passed, would give Orange County the authority to build the state’s first public toll roads. Prime candidates for the county’s first “pay-as-you-go” thruways would be the proposed Eastern and Foothill corridors.
A toll road, like gas taxes, is a user fee, but it is the most direct kind because the toll goes strictly for the road being used.
Toll roads are not the most popular concept with motorists. Some factors that must still be determined are whether motorists will pay a fee to use new and less congested roads and at what point a toll becomes prohibitive. If too much has to be charged to build a road and maintain it, drivers won’t pay it. And if a toll is set too low, it won’t cover the cost.
Frizzelle’s bill brings the issue into the open for discussion, and the Orange County Transportation Commission is preparing to start a study to help determine how realistic an option the toll-road approach is. Both actions were needed.
If the public wants new freeways and expressways it must, one way or another, pay for them. As long as new taxes remain a dead end, it’s time at least to examine an alternate route.