Thursday, November 16, 2017

For Whom the Toll Tolls

The Northern Virginia (or NoVa) area where I live is famous for it's horrendous traffic. Every workday morning tens of thousands of cars snail their way from points as far south as Fredericksburg, as far west as West Virginia, as far north as Gettysburg, and as far east as Annapolis, inching their miserable way to commuters' jobs in Washington, DC and its close environs. In the evening, the process is reversed, with all those cars headed in the opposite direction, carrying their owners the long distances to the homes they can afford*. Oh, and let's not forget the noontime rush hour, too ... between 11 AM and 1 PM, there's often another highway mess as people try to run errands in their lunch breaks.

Many things have been done to try to address the traffic situation, and none of them have worked out very well ... we have a Metro rail system that is chronically underfunded, grossly overcrowded, and plagued with safety issues; buses that end up stuck in the same traffic as everybody else; and a small but expensive streetcar system that will probably never amount to anything.

And we have toll roads.

The toll roads are the successor to our "High-Occupancy Vehicle" (HOV) lanes; now they're called "High-Occupancy Toll" (HOT) lanes. This means that if you have the right number of people in your vehicle (at least two on one highway, and at least three on others), you can use the road for free; if you have the right transponder, however, you can use these lanes whenever they're open in the correct direction if you pay the toll.

There are, from my perspective, two problems with this arrangement.

First, the toll is variable, and depends on the prevailing traffic conditions. If traffic on the main highway is light, the toll is small; as the traffic density increases, the tolls go up sharply, supposedly to help manage the flow of traffic by keeping the number of cars on the express lanes down. At the place this photo was taken on Interstate 95, not far from my home, the toll to the Prince William Parkway exit - a distance of about ten miles - is $20.80. At less-congested times, it can be $2.00 or less. On one occasion this past year, I had to suck up a toll of $13.65 in order to get Agnes to a medical appointment on time in Tyson's Corner ... a distance of 18 miles. For purposes of comparison, the toll for the 86-mile distance we travel on the Pennsylvania Turnpike** when we go to Pittsburgh is $12.10.

Second, the toll roads were constructed and are operated under a public-private partnership with Australian company Transurban. This means that the private operator that built and operates the roads takes a hefty chunk of the toll income, as well as interest and fees charged on motorists who don't pay the tolls***. Such partnerships are becoming more common as cash-strapped municipalities look for new ways to finance transportation infrastructure maintenance and improvements, but it appears to me that the ability of a commercial firm to levy and collect tolls and impose fines and penalties is ripe for abuse.

But that's just me, and it pisses me off to spend outrageous amounts of money on tolls when most of it goes to a company in Australia.

Have a good day. Ask not for whom the toll tolls ... it tolls for thee††.

See you tomorrow for the announcement of the Left Cheek Ass Clown for November. More thoughts then.


* Around here, a miserable commute is the trade you make for a home you can afford.

** Between Breezewood and New Stanton ... not a stretch of road I recommend if you can help it.

*** It's been the subject of lawsuits.

† Of course, in the business-friendly Trump Era, that's hardly a problem.

†† With apologies to John Donne.


eViL pOp TaRt said...

Yhe tolls go to Australia? That's an outrage! An antipodal outrage is still one.

I hate toll roads.

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

ON another note this really affects my business - this route 66 new toll plays into our business big time. We are going to have to raise our prices to accommodate our techs extra costs on the road. Right now we try not to use the Dulles Toll Road if can be avoided, but sometimes to be on time that is what needs to be used. 495, Dulles toll road and now Rt 66 is going to be another big toll. We can basically not drive anywhere without paying.To do business in this area is not cheap in any way. A business for example in Alexandra pays enormous taxes (80% of their business value or purchase price of their equipment) This never goes down even if your business value goes down or if your equipment is no longer valid and old. Hence why we stayed here. Now we deal with enormous tolls. I am weary.

Gonzo Dave said...

This makes me glad I live in Arizona. My daughter and her husband live in Northern IL, and they're plagued with toll roads all throughout Chicagoland. Ugh.

John A Hill said...

I didn't realize the toll prices there are variable.
Although I did take a few toll roads on my end of summer epic road trip, for the most part I tend to avoid them.

Mike said...

Twenty bucks for 10 mikes. That's nuts!

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

That is outrageous!

allenwoodhaven said...

I had no idea there were variable priced tolls! It's outrageous, pure and simple. It's too late to hope they won't think of that for the NYC area.

The first time (1976!) I went around the DC beltway was in an evening rush hour. It was my first solo long distance trip from FL to NJ. I realize that was long long ago, but it was the worst traffic I'd ever seen. It was nerve wracking, especially with a hearse following me for way too long!

Atomic Dog said...

The would try to squeeze blood out of a turnip! Outrageous!