Friday, October 14, 2005

Taking a swim in a very big pond

It is no secret that most state DOTs view themselves as in somewhat of a funding crisis. With congestion on the rise, rising fuel costs placing political pressure to temporarily suspend gas taxes, and long term concerns of fuel tax revenue decline, many states have encouraged the development of alternative financing programs. Some illustrative examples of the type of program developments that have occurred in the past year include:
  • The Trans-Texas Corridor, a privately financed mega-corridor system in Texas including toll lanes, truck lanes, high speed rail, and utility pipelines.
  • Oregon's Innovative Partnerships Program, encouraging the development of network tolling, HOT lanes, or other toll alternatives on three mega projects of statewide importance.
  • Chicago Skyway concession agreement, whereby an investment group receives a 99 year agreement to toll the Chicago Skyway (with annual toll increases) in exchange for a present-term transfer of $1.8B to the City of Chicago.
Arguably, the glue that holds all of these programs together is tolling. Other states that are advancing toll programs include California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Texas, and Virginia. Not everything is rosy in the world of tolling, though. Significant political opposition has been raised in every state where tolling has been proposed -- a quick review of the Texas Toll Party shows what life can be like facing public opposition to tolling.

Despite political opposition, it is clear that these states and others will continue to advance toll projects to address perceived financing shortfalls. The question for TDM professionals is the role we play in these projects. Let's be clear -- this is a big money, big influence environment. Project costs usually are articulated in B's, not M's or T's. TDM does not bring any significant money to the table. What we do bring includes partnerships with developers, chambers, and employers and existing mechanisms for outreach to commuters. What other roles can we play? How do we advance considerations for carpools, vanpools, and buses in toll facilities, when so much pressure will be placed to maximize revenues? Are there appropriate carpool and vanpool considerations that do not involve toll discounts or waivers?

In short, how can we swim in the big pond?

1 comment:

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