Toll study raises questions about safety of alternate routes

| 1/16/2008

Increasing tolls and privatization of public roads will lead to more traffic and dangerous conditions on alternate routes, the authors of an academic study stated in a report released Tuesday, Jan. 15.

The study strengthens the position of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association against the U.S. Department of Transportation’s move in recent years to promote tolling and public-private partnerships.

Study authors Peter Swan of the University of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg, PA, and Michael Belzer of Wayne State University in Detroit used traffic data and toll information from the Ohio Turnpike to illustrate that excessive tolling forces truckers and motorists onto alternative routes.

“Operationally, existing two-lane roads could be overburdened, making maintenance more expensive and adding to local congestion,” Swan and Belzer stated in the report titled “Empirical Evidence of Toll Road Traffic Diversion and Implications for Highway Infrastructure Privatization.”

“Additionally, non-interstate roads are inherently more dangerous than interstate roads, so diversions from interstate roads would likely result in greater property damage and greater loss of life,” according to the report.

OOIDA leaders say that the report is timely and that it will strengthen the Association’s position against excessive tolling and the leasing of highways to private investors.

“Drivers will use a toll road when it represents a value to what they’re doing,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer told Land Line. “In so many instances, the value just isn’t there, so they pick alternative routes. At some point, they quit going to those parts of the country altogether.

“The concern that we have is that the motivation of the tolling entity is to jack up the rates for all the market can bear and that they won’t be high enough until the traffic is already diverting to those alternate routes.”

The current toll for a Class 8 truck from the Westgate entrance of the Ohio Turnpike to the Eastgate exit is $33.50 for 236 miles, or 14.2 cents per mile.

Swan and Belzer estimate that if the Ohio Turnpike were privatized, tolls for a Class 8 vehicle could easily jump to 45 cents per mile, or $106 in tolls for the same 236 miles.

The authors chose Ohio for the study because of toll history on the Turnpike, the availability of alternate routes and hints about privatization over the past few years.

“It is curious that national policy clearly supports sales or long-term leases of roads to private parties when such negative results reasonably can be expected,” the authors stated in the report.

– By David Tanner, staff writer