My latest post is online at GoLocalProv and is called “Rhode Island Needs Tolls.” While I am specifically addressing a case in Rhode Island, I explore the bigger picture and explain why across America we are likely to see expanded use of tolling – and why that’s probably the right thing. Here’s a sample:
According to Standard and Poors, the US has an accumulated infrastructure spending deficit of $2.2 trillion. Beyond the Sakonnet, an estimated 70,000 bridges need replacing nationwide. Needs range from replacing Cleveland’s decaying Innerbelt to a major transit rail investment need in New York City to upgrading America’s air traffic control systems.
Gridlock and fiscal pressures in Washington, America’s traditional infrastructure financier, compound the problem. As the Washington Post noted last year, “The bill for all that, and more, eventually will land on taxpayers’ doorsteps. But the postmark won’t read ‘Washington.’ Instead, the tax bill will come from state or local governments struggling to fill the growing void in federal funding.” Gridlock makes it difficult to get anything done at the federal level, leading to default policies like sequestration. But even if Congress did start making progress, huge fiscal imbalances (the “good news” is that our 2013 deficit will be “only” $759 billion) mean it’s unlikely the feds are going to be paying for this. That leaves states like Rhode Island on their own.
As a rule we should be moving towards user fee systems for roadways. For too long we’ve given away roads “for free,” resulting in congestion, sprawl, environmental degradation, and yes, crumbling infrastructure. All of these come in part because we do not pay the full cost of the driving trips that we make. Pretty much anything we only indirectly pay to consume ends up over-used and under-maintained. That’s the tragedy of the commons.