BOHICA Alert: With primaries over, NCGOP doubles down in push FOR toll roads

bohicaIt’s no surprise that politicians save discussion of controversial issues until AFTER they have safely secured another term at the public trough.  It appears the “honorables” on Jones Street are keeping that tradition alive.

I had heard that state Rep. Skip Stam had a real problem with accidentally sending business emails to people who they weren’t intended for.  Well, one of those emails ended up in our inbox (Click image to enlarge):



stam1FYI — Don D’ambrosi  is a Triangle area land-planning consultant.  

Attached to this email are talking points to be used in debating Tea Party sources opposing the installation of toll roads in the state.  At the 2013 NCGOP convention,  delegates passed a platform plank opposing toll roads.  That upset state speaker — now US Senate nominee — Thom Tillis to the point that he took his team back to Raleigh and rammed through legislation allowing for toll roads.    Sources at Gov, Pat’s NCDOT leaked word that they were seriously considering the implementation of toll roads to finance road maintenance and construction.  (Not much word about weeding out waste in current projects or cutting the gas tax to off-set the pain in the wallet toll roads will inflict.) 

Just before the primary vote, we got word that NCGOP insiders drafting a platform for 2014 are striking anti-toll road language from that document. 

Let’s get down to the meat-and-potatoes of The Gospel of Skip: 

[…] The Toll Road program is an important tool to be included in the measures for building public infrastructure.

Use of Toll Roads can greatly accelerate the implementation of crucial projects. In the case of 540 in western Wake County it has been estimated that this project was able to be constructed some 20-25 years earlier than it would have been if it followed traditional funding/construction processes.

With the 540 Toll Road in place existing motorists have been provided with an excellent alternative for reaching the RTP, Durham, RDU Airport and eastern NC in far less time and with much greater ease. Future residents will also be able to enjoy the benefits of this facility immediately upon their arrival.payup


Toll Roads give us the flexibility of following a new axiom which is “ Since we can clearly project the unquestionable need for improvements let’s go ahead and get it in place so it is there before we have a catastrophic failure of the existing , limited, facilities.”

Along with improving mobility (the ability to move safely and efficiently from point A to Point B and back again) having alternative routes in place also helps to meet our requirements to reduce air pollution from vehicle emissions.

Our region has long been under an air quality improvement mandate from the EPA. […]  Even with the addition of buses to reduce the number of idling vehicles there was no significant improvement as few people chose to use the bus. Further, the region’s steady population growth added new drivers to the mix at a rate that far outstripped any advantage gained by the limited number of people who chose the transit option.

Hmmmm.  An admission that concepts like light rail don’t work?  MORE: 

The only reliable fallback that we could take has been to expand and add new roadway facilities to provide much needed alternatives and keep vehicles moving so that no single area would be subjected to the long periods of inching vehicles with idling engines that would severely impair the air quality at that given location.Given limited state and federal funding that might provide for a few improvements over a 7 to 10 year time period, local governments have been confronted with having to build new roads completely on their own. This has required approval of bonds by the voters within the respective community, or a tax increase, or both. Even so, our communities still find themselves with the need to improve or construct even more roads.legislature


If the logic of the 540 toll road saving both time and money even with the payment of the tolls is proven, then the facility is notpunitive to those who use it. If the logic is proven that the toll road saves money by reducing fuel costs even after the tolls are accounted for then the facility cannot be discriminatory as the benefit is there for all. Further, if one’s personal time were valued at $10 an hour a reduction in commute time by at least 15 minutes each way is a $5 benefit. If the commute is reduced by 30 minutes each way there is a $10 realization in time. That is much more than the toll.

Of course, Stam included some arguments to use against those *awful* Tea Partiers:

[…] Are Toll roads punitive;

At 18.4 cents per gallon, the federal gas tax was last raised in 1993. Since then, it has lost nearly 40 percent of its purchasing power. The gas tax would need to be raised to nearly 30 cents per gallon to give it the purchasing power it had in 1993.

Similarly, while the North Carolina state gas tax is a combination of a flat rate plus a variable rate based on wholesale prices (capped since 2012), North Carolina has seen the power of its highway construction dollars decline 52% between 2002-2013.  This reduction of purchasing power at both the federal and state levels creates challenges to funding our infrastructure systems now and in the future.

Let’s not forget the shameful raiding of highway funds to pay for pork barrel projects to ensure legislators’ reelection bids.  MORE: 

The use of tolls is a central component to this nation’s transportation funding system.  Tolls establish a direct connection between the use of the road and payment for that use. For too long, motorists have falsely believed our roads are free. Our highways are not free nor have they ever been. However, it’s easy to see why that misperception persists. There is no direct link between paying the fuel tax and using the roads it funds. Tolling re-establishes that connection.

There are no free roads. There are only toll roads and tax supported roads. A toll is a user fee, not a tax. You only pay for a toll road when you use it. Every road needs maintenance and reconstruction, and that costs money.  No road is ever fully paid for. A road, just like a home, requires ongoing upkeep and maintenance.  Tolls provide a sustainable source of revenue for ongoing road maintenance and improvement.

It is a common misconception that the Interstates are “already paid for.” Infrastructure of all kinds needs routine maintenance, upgrading and eventual replacement. Though it cost $129 billion to construct, it will cost nearly $2.5 trillion over the next 50 years to rebuild the interstate system, largely at state expense. States are looking for new, sustainable revenue streams to support their highways, especially the Interstate highways. A growing number of states are exploring (or revisiting) the benefits of tolling as part of the options for renovating and upgrading their roadways.

Tolls are voluntary user fees. Drivers can choose to pay tolls or take alternative routes, whereas taxes are mandatory and charged to everyone. Yes, customers of toll facilities also pay taxes, but the taxes are used to fund non-toll roads. Since toll roads are primarily self-financed and do not rely on taxes, the customer is not paying twice for the facility. In fact, without tolls, taxes would be higher.

Do Toll roads discriminate;

Tolls are a fair and precise way to pay for transportation facilities because there is a clear and direct link between use of the facility and payment for that use.

A toll is a user fee, not a tax. If you don’t use the facility, you don’t pay for it. You only pay a toll when you choose to drive on a toll road for a higher level of convenience, reliability or safety.

Many surveys have shown that drivers of all income levels use tolled facilities and support having the option to use high-quality toll roads. A well-designed pricing plan can be less burdensome to low-income citizens than systems that are based on regressive taxes, such as car registration fees, sales taxes and the gasoline tax.

Do Toll roads alleviate traffic congestion;

Tolls provide money today for projects that can be built in the near future and meet demand for decades to come.

Tolls provide a dedicated and predictable revenue stream that allows toll operators to program capacity improvements as they are needed.

Today, most toll roads, bridges, and tunnels collect tolls electronically, which eliminates the need to stop and pay tolls at a traditional toll plaza.

Toll roads are generally safer than non-tolled roads due to better maintenance, pavement, and technology.  Toll operators employ state-of-the-art technology to monitor road conditions and have a financial incentive to keep their roads running as safely and smoothly as possible.

Toll roads tend to be less congested than tax-funded roads, where unrestricted access often leads to congestion. Toll roads also lead to time savings and congestion relief on nearby roadways by increasing the total road capacity available. Moreover, most toll operators are eliminating toll plazas and expanding their high-speed, automated tolling options. Most new facilities are being built as cashless systems, with no stopping or slowing down to pay a toll.

Do Toll roads cost $1.9 million more per mile to build;

Capital costs for the Triangle Expressway included:

·         Roadside Toll Collection System (RTCS) – $11.98M

·         Electronic Toll Collection System (ETCS) – $2.77M

·         Initial Transponder Purchase – $3.59M

·         Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) – $6.05M

·         Back Office System (BOS) – $3.57M

·         Consultants – $7.61M

Including only the RTCS, ETCS,and 60% of the Consultant Labor ($19.32M) which accounts for roadside toll equipment costs specific to the Triangle Expressway (18.8 miles), the roadside toll technology cost is $1.03M/Mile.  These project costs were included in the overall project cost and plan of finance.

 As of March 31, 2014, the Triangle Expressway has delivered $24,180,503.56 in actual revenue.  This is 22% above projections, project to date

It’s ironic that Stam mentions the Triangle Expressway.  ABC 11 ran a piece talking about how the Expressway is lightly used and not even coming close to paying for itself.