Everyone ready for $50 fares?
'Early this past December, Virginia state officials opened up their latest “dynamically priced” toll superhighway, a 10-mile stretch of interstate that runs from Northern Virginia into Washington, D.C. Ten days later, commuter Chris Kane looked up at the signage that continually updates the road’s current rush-hour fare.
The sign read $44.
“That’s insane,” Kane tweeted.
This stressed-out commuter had a point. But a great many of our elected officials today, in Virginia and around the country, don’t buy it. The incredibly pricey tolls that commuter Chris Kane sees as insane have become our conventional public policy wisdom on transportation.
That wisdom in a nutshell: Markets can solve everything. Let’s just sit back and let markets work their magic.
Terry McAuliffe stepped down last month as governor of Virginia. He counted on that magic. Four years ago, upon taking office, McAuliffe — a Democrat — committed his administration “to radically change how we do transportation in Virginia.” Marketplace choice — “congestion pricing,” to use the wonky label — would be at the heart of that change.
“Congestion pricing,” the Federal Highway Administration has pronounced, harnesses “the power of the market to reduce the waste associated with traffic congestion.”
The theory works like this: You take a stretch of highway, make it into toll lanes, and use high-tech sensors to track the traffic flow. If traffic starts to slow, you raise the toll and keep raising it, every few minutes, until motorists begin opting off the road. The toll-lane traffic then starts flowing faster.
How high can tolls go? On Virginia’s new 10-mile stretch of I-66, tolls hit $34.50 on December 4, the day they debuted, and then peaked at $40 the next day. Commuter groups almost immediately started demanding relief. But McAuliffe’s transportation secretary, Aubrey Layne, dismissed all their complaints. The system, he asserted, is working just “as intended.”'
Read more: The Plutocrats Are Chomping at the Bit to Punish Us with Pricey Road Tolls