Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Texas Says "No" to Private Toll Roads

The Financial Times of 14 May 2007 reports that down in Texas, they don't have enough public money to build enough public roads to accommodate all the public that wants to drive on them.

The problem is fuel efficiency. As cars have become more fuel efficient, the amount of fuel tax received for every mile driven has dropped by half. Add to that a booming population, more traffic, and very little increase in road capacity, and you have the recipe for a Texas-sized case of gridlock.

The solution, at least for awhile, appeared to be private toll roads. These are roads built with private capital, not taxpayer dollars. The roads are owned by the state but leased to the private operators.

Private toll roads are a clear win-win for commuters and the state transportation authority: the commuter gets a choice (public and crowded roads or private and not crowded) and the state saves the cost of building and maintaining a road.

But, of course, in politics nothing works out the way you would expect.

The Texas House came up with its own plan to solve the problem. It passed a bill to eliminate the gas tax altogether for the summer. Then it approved a moratorium on privately built toll roads.

In effect, the House said it could solve the problem by bringing in less money, building its own toll roads, and by eliminating the competition. The details of this economic miracle remain unclear.

Meanwhile, somewhere in Texas, commuters are waiting...and waiting, and waiting.

For some cogent commentary on the roadblock in Texas, check out Robert Poole. Bob is one of the world's foremost experts on transportation privatization.

Bob was a speaker at the Bastiat Society in February, 2007.

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