Saturday, 8 October 2011

Tolls to be "fact of life" in Florida

The Florida-Times Union reports that “State Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad said gas tax financing of roads is not sustainable, and tolls will be the first choice for financing all new capacity and major bridge replacements in Florida.”

This follows an announcement that Florida state route 23 will become a toll road from Interstate 10 to Blanding Boulevard. It involves widening the existing road and installing grade separating intersections (map in the article).

Tolls are expected be 15 cents a mile, which means it will cost about $2.25 to travel the 15-mile road. The $291 million project will be financed by the Florida Turnpike Enterprise.

The controversy is that tolls were abolished some decades ago. Duval County voters chose to do away with all tolls in the late 1980s, agreeing to a half-cent sales tax instead.

Alan Mosley, head of the Florida Department of Transportation in Northeast Florida, said the concern about tolls coming back is more about inconvenience than money.”

However, tolls will be collected by the Sunpass. Sunpass is a rather tired DSRC (tag and beacon) system which allows vehicles to operate through plazas electronically at 25 mph - a far cry from the sophisticated DSRC systems elsewhere that operate at full highway speeds.  At least manual tolls will not be available.

State officials said they expected about 20,000 motorists to use the road on an average day after it was tolled. That is roughly the number of people who use the road now.

Florida's approach seems to mirror views being expressed increasingly across the US.  Tolls are a means of plugging gaps in funding road improvements, and without them many improvements simply wont happen.  For now, it is a useful way of progressing some works, but in the long run they will not be enough in themselves.   Certainly even electronic tolling technology that operates at slow speeds isn't going to be good enough.

What it should do is buy time to think about a long term solution and that is to talk about distance based charging.

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