I never thought Id see the day that an environmental group would advocate building more highway capacity to make life easier for rich people driving gas-guzzling SUVs and sports cars.
But its for a good cause. Environmental Defense announced today that it had joined with highway and public transportation industry groups to encourage wider use of public-private partnerships to spur investment in transportation, reduce congestion, and protect the environment, noting that environmental performance and community benefit agreements could be helpful in expanding public support for mobility improvements.
Theyre talking about congestion pricing, which in California has been limited to Lexus Lanes upon which people willing to fork over as much as $8.50 for the privilege of passing the poor proles in their idling Scions. They do this in carpool lanes especially equipped with high-speed tolling equipment. It charges your FasTrak account. There are no booths.
But hear what ED has to say about it:
Congestion pricing is a simple idea: vary the price of tolls to make driving more expensive at crowded times and cheaper off-peak. Just as cheaper “off-peak” airline fares encourage people to fly at less crowded times, so congestion pricing helps keep our roads clear and reduce the need to build new roads to handle peak demand. Smart use of tolls can also help finance a broad range of transportation choices, from new buses to subways and roads, at a time when public tax dollars are scarce.
It goes on to talk about New Yorks low-price-spread congestion pricing on its Hudson River crossings started in 2001 that has shaved 7 percent from peak traffic volumes.
Then theres London, which cordoned off its entire downtown and began charging electronic tolls of nearly $15 a day, and has seen a 30 percent reduction in congestion.
But here in California, we have Orange Countys State Route 91 Express Lanes, the first fully automated, variable-priced toll road in the United States, where commuters have saved more than 32 million hours of commuting time. And we have San Diegos I-15, where FasTrak-equipped single-occupant motorists can use the carpool lanes for a variable, per-trip fee based on the time of day and traffic levels.
Imagine, if you will, the HOV-3 lanes on I-80 through Berkeley, cordoned off with Jaguars and Beemers zipping along past the steaming throngs of VWs and Hondas. Now, the casual commuters from Vallejo will still get a free ride, but their wealthier fellow travelers will be helping pay for a new Micro-BART line to Hercules.
Except you dont have to imagine, because our local Congestion Management Agencies have already been bitten by the congestion pricing bug, and are planning to create new carpool/Lexus lanes on southbound I-680 for 14 miles between Pleasanton and Milpitas. The idea, according to backers of this smart lane, is to raise money for worthy transportation projects, although the annual take is only a few million per year.
In its press release, the Park Avenue-based nonprofit extols:
“Its time for Americas transportation agencies to maximize highway system performance rather than just trying to build more roads. Better traffic management, market incentives like time-of-day tolls, and new performance-based contracting methods are key to getting the job done, said Michael Replogle, transportation director for Environmental Defense. Private firms can help governments accelerate innovation and ensure performance, but these deals need to be done in the open and include environmental performance and community benefit agreements if they are to sustain public support.”
Environmental Defense released a report today, No More Just Throwing Money Out the Window: Using Road Tolls to Cut Congestion, Protect the Environment, and Boost Access for All, which discusses how toll roads and public-private partnership contracts and legislation can promote environmental stewardship and equity.
You can read the report at www.environmentaldefense.org/go/highperformancenetworks.