Alternative fuel for Georgia’s transportation needs

Higher gas prices are with us to stay, so the gas tax is headed for extinction.

That’s the counterintuitive message from Samuel Staley, a leading expert on free-market transportation policy.

Gas prices are destined to remain high, said Staley, director of urban and land use policy for the libertarian Reason Foundation, because of greater demand for oil from China, India and Africa.

“We’re not going to give up our cars” and the controlled environment and customized mobility they provide us, Staley said Tuesday at a luncheon held by the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, and in an interview with me beforehand. “What we’re going to do is find different ways to power our cars.” That means less gas used, and declining gas-tax revenues.

(Click here to see Staley’s PowerPoint presentation from Tuesday and here to watch video of his speech.)

Samuel Staley

Samuel Staley

Staley sees China’s rising demand first-hand. He spends much of his time there, counseling local governments on transportation issues. (Flip over his business card, and you’ll see his contact information in Mandarin on the back.)

But even in a country where the demand for gas is soaring, Chinese authorities don’t depend chiefly on gas taxes to pay for new infrastructure. They’re tapping into private pools of capital — to such a greater degree than America does, Staley said, that it’s sometimes unclear to him which country is communist and which one champions free markets.

These public-private partnerships are a crucial supplement to government revenue streams for building transportation infrastructure, Staley said.

“If you’ve got a facility that will pay for itself, why [let government] get in the way?” he said, advising Georgia’s lawmakers to “put legislation in place so that these things go.”

Of course, private investors want to be repaid. The most common mechanism for doing this is a toll, which brings us back to phasing out the gas tax.

Even if gas doesn’t decline as an energy source, Staley argued, tolling is a better way to identify which road projects to build and then pay for them.

That’s because prices in any market — in this case, tolls — send the truest signal about which products — i.e., the routes formed by interstates, arterial roads and surface streets — consumers value.

Motorists will be able to access new lanes, or perhaps new highways, if they’re willing to pay for the privilege of moving at a guaranteed speed. An example is the network of high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes planned for metro Atlanta, which Staley called “way ahead of the curve” nationally.

Perhaps best of all, “willingness to pay” dictates how and when investments are made, lessening political influence.

Those who favor public transportation can also take heart, and not only because tolling would guarantee a high minimum speed for buses. “With such a broad-based change” in the way we pay for our travel, Staley said, “everyone will recalibrate their trade-offs about which mode to use, and transit will benefit.”

MARTA, he said, should vary its pricing based on segments traveled, charging enough to cover its costs and then using vouchers to subsidize travel by the poor or elderly.

Even if all this sounds great, we are, by Staley’s estimation, 30 years away from relying totally on user pricing. What to do until then?

The interim solution in Georgia is for voters next year to consider a penny sales tax that would fund a list of projects selected by local elected officials and state planners. Such general revenues, Staley said, “should be the option of last resort.”

Given our traffic problems and the dearth of alternatives at hand, we’re arguably at the point of last resort. The question we need to discuss next is which projects would justify that option.

– By Kyle Wingfield

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90 comments Add your comment


April 20th, 2011
7:10 pm


April 20th, 2011
7:31 pm

If it will cost me $5 to drive across Atlanta anyway, whether that’s $4 in gas plus $1 gas tax or $3 in gas plus $2 in tolls, how does that benefit me? In one instance I am funding State government services from which I may or may not benefit, in another I am funding an investor’s retirement. If roads are all privately built and tolled, what happens when certain routes fall out of favor or are no longer profitable? Does the road simply get abandoned and allowed to fall into disrepair?

My most important question though is what percentage of the population should be able to afford access to local transportation? Will private ownership end up creating a two tier system of one pool of people who can afford to commute and a second pool larger than currently exists of people who can’t? What will the long term costs to society be should this occur?

Private enterprise and capitalism are tools, and not right for every job. When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem begins to look like a nail. This becomes disastrous when the problem is actually a loose window pane.

Dumb and Dumber

April 20th, 2011
7:59 pm

Gotta love the toll lanes. Not only are our great leaders making you pay a toll for a lane that we’ve already paid for — the revenue from the toll lanes won’t even cover the costs of operating them.

I guess I should let GDOT and Sonny Perdue, who thought up this crazy scheme, take my handle.

But don’t worry — since it comes from a GOP governor and legislature Kyle will say its a great idea.

If Obama was for it, it would be a socialist, marxist wealth redistribution scheme from a jihadist kenyan.

Hey AJC — how about letting me write these columns?


April 20th, 2011
9:00 pm

Why should we pay for segments traveled on MARTA, but not on roads? Right now, our road development is driven (no pun intended) by developers. They pick a piece of land and then the county/state/feds adapt by building roads. Where do all those cars at spaghetti junction come from? They surely don’t all live within 3 miles. People won’t get out of their cars because they feel entitled to a lightly-traveled ribbon of asphalt to GET them to those chokepoints. And they get them.

Airline travel is a good example of this. Routes to smaller cities rarely cover their costs. Tickets are subsidized by either raising prices on bigger routes, or direct government payment to the airlines. (Sarah Palin’s bastion of rugged independence, Alaska, is the biggest beneficiary of the government program.)

Unless you institute a true toll system for all roads, you’re asking me to subsidize a road so an exurban Forsyth county dweller can easily get to I-285, then zip past me in the Lexus Lane on money they’ve saved by using government subsidies.

Thanks for the link, Kyle, but I don’t feel much need to peruse Mr. Staley’s PowerPoint presentation. It’s about as appealing as a presentation on using food stamps to buy T-bone steaks for your welfare brood.

Doug S.

April 20th, 2011
9:12 pm

But not before Georgia general aviation airports start charging private corp. jets landing and parking fees, so we can stop subsidizing the notorious giveaways (off the book funding from general funds). Lexus lanes, fast airport check lines, and toll roads, use real estate owned by the people and for the people, but not to be used by all the people. Hum?Seems like wealth redistribution to me.

Georgia Voters

April 20th, 2011
9:49 pm

When I hear “public-private partnership” I think corporate welfare.

First, this proposal would not be an implementation of free markets. In a free market, we have good options including the option not to purchase a product or service. We can choose not to buy a pet rock. Most of us can’t choose not to go to work.

Also, we wouldn’t just pay the tolls for the roads that we use. We’d also pay the tolls on any products or services we purchase from a business that also had to pay the tolls.

Finally, tolls are taxes and yet another manifestation of the right-wing scam. Politicians campaign by claiming that spending is too high and they need to cut “taxes”, usually undefined. But they actually cut corporate income taxes, taxes on the unearned income such as inheritances and capital gains, and higher tax rates on the wealthy. Now they’re turning around and seeking to raise taxes on the poor and middle class by eliminating common deductions, raising sales taxes, raising various fees, and if they get their way, building toll roads.

We live in a plutocracy, my friends, and our Georgia legislators are working hard for their corporate benefactors…at our expense.

old timer

April 20th, 2011
9:50 pm

Marta was never well planned..Went to houseing projects..never to where people wanted actually go.

Mama Says

April 20th, 2011
9:56 pm

The problem with user fees is that we have already paid a user fee ! Taxes are taken from us to build the roadways, we should not have to pay to use what we have already paid to use. Next we will have user fees for police service b/c the government cannot afford to hire enough cops.

The true measure to funding the important projects is budget control and need. We should stop funding parks, rec centers, government advertizing (postal service, army etc…) and all this non essential stuff until the basics are taken care of. It’s amazingly rediculous that we struggle to fund basic government services and continue spending on the other stuff.

A child can play in a field, I know how to give my mail to and we all know there will be a draft if need be.

Tolls are Good

April 20th, 2011
10:04 pm

Georgia needs more toll roads! Our road network is a joke. We need toll roads to help fund road infrastructure projects to help improve the traffic congestion problems we have. How do you think that almost every other state pays for their roads? …Tolls! The ignorance of many citizens of the state is why we have these problems in the first place.

Georgia Voter

April 20th, 2011
10:25 pm

KW: “Gas prices are destined to remain high, said Staley, director of urban and land use policy for the libertarian Reason Foundation, because of greater demand for oil from China, India and Africa.”

Atlanta gas prices have increased nearly ten percent in the last 30 days. There isn’t that kind of volatility in world supply or world demand.

Recent dramatic increases are caused, in large part, by big speculators, many of whom reside on Wall Street. Our legislators in Washington can do something about it, but they choose not to.


April 20th, 2011
10:28 pm

What about rural routes with fewer vehicles (and driven by those with reduced or non-existent incomes)? Will they simply deteriorate until they’re impassable? (Think not only of bad pavement, but of bridges too.) What then of those who live in rural areas? What of the transportation-disadvantaged who rely on rural public transportation for their livelihoods (jobs, medical appointments, nutrition, etc) if those transportation drivers are unable to reach them?

Le Bourgeois

April 20th, 2011
10:36 pm

How about we just pay a straightforward dedicated tax for roads so we can get better and newer roads. Enough with the shenanigans of fees, tolls, hidden taxes, etc. Damn.

The state even f-d up the T-SPLOST by holding a gun to local governments’ heads that in case it fails the buck gets passed to them with increased matching costs and they get the blame.

If you live in Georgia and drive the roads, pay a road tax each year.


April 21st, 2011
12:03 am

You know, back before roads were payed for by governments, toll roads existed (I’m talking way back in history, like the 1600’s. These went out of favour because, well, only people who could afford them could use them. Point being, toll roads are a huge step backwards. These a reason they ended up being government owned; because everyone needs to use them

Michael H. Smith

April 21st, 2011
12:25 am

Proprietary Infrastructure: Is where the populist within me separates my political-philosophical views from the unfortunate and constitutionally questionable currently held views of libertarians and certain conservatives. One of the very reasons a truly “Free Market” can never exist relates to the monopolistic control that is inherent to “Proprietary Infrastructure”. Anything that controls or could inhibit to any measurable degree the conveyance of thoughts, persons, services or products should be protected within the sphere of “Public Domain”.

My argument is in keeping with Article 1 Section 8. In the case of roads, particular to the fundamental and underlying principle of Clause 7.

It may come as a shock to some but if I had my druthers, roads, rails, pipe-lines, power-lines, phone-lines, or in short: Anything that controls or may inhibit to any measurable degree the liberty of conveyance of thoughts, persons, services or products shall(would) be solely owned, controlled and protected by the government.

Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off the lights.....

April 21st, 2011
2:08 am

Paying for new infrastructure through the use of tolls, increased fares and user fees is a great way to get new roads and rail lines built that wouldn’t normally get built otherwise. Though, keep in mind, that NOT ALL new roads can be paid for with tolls alone just like we’re clearly past the point where all new roads and rail lines can continue to be financed with lowest per capita gas taxes outside of Alaska. It’s going to take a creative and innovative mix of taxes, bonds, tolls, fares, user fees and public-private partnerships to construct the much-needed infrastructure that Georgia needs to stay competitive in the world economy.

I agree with Samuel Staley’s suggestion that rapid transit systems like MARTA should should vary their pricing based on segments traveled, charging enough to cover their costs and then using vouchers to subsidize travel by the poor or elderly. The D.C. Metro transit system already uses a form of this type of pricing as it costs nearly $5.00 one-way to board the Metro subway at some of the system’s busiest stations during rush hour. One of my major peeves has always been that MARTA’s fares are not high enough to provide the level of service that the ENTIRE Metro Atlanta community needs for commuters to have a truly viable option besides just sitting in traffic in what is overwhelmingly for the most part single-occupant vehicles during morning and evening rush-hours during the week and during random delays like accidents and road construction the rest of the time. 20 years ago, $2.00 would have been an adequate enough fare to provide a very premium level of rail and bus service, but now $2.00 barely even seems like it’s enough to scratch the surface of the level of transit service of what this town has grown to so desperately need. Why MARTA and most of the parties involved insist on charging artificially low fares (circa-2011) and waiting till hell freezes over for what clearly seems to be an incompetent state government to raise taxes and provide the rest of the funding for them when the current transportation funding doesn’t even adequately fund ROAD construction and maintenance is a total mystery? Two of our main economic competors, Texas and Florida, use tolls to fund the construction, maintenance and operation of new expressways and have been doing so for many years because it’s better to pay tolls and get to ride on the new road now instead of never. A third main competitor, North Carolina has been investing heavily in passenger rail and has been constructing new expressways at a high rate for many years, but just recently turned to user fees in the form of tolls as a means of financing the new roads because of the reality and hard truth that taxes just cannot and will not pay to cover the construction and maintenance costs involved in bringing and keeping the new infrastructure online. If our MAIN COMPETITORS like Texas, Florida and North Carolina and a transit peer like the DC Metro can use user fees in the form of tolls and adequately-priced fares to cover all or at least, a substantial part of constructing and operating new transportation infrastructure, then why can’t Georgia do the same to greater effect?

No Artificial Flavors

April 21st, 2011
2:11 am

Well stated Michael H Smith. Some items are inherently open to abuse by the the private sector thus should remain publicly controlled. Common-sense libertarianism allows for such thought.

Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off the lights.....

April 21st, 2011
2:40 am

By attempting to operate off of such of a low fare structure while waiting for increased funding from an incompetent state government that is NEVER going to come, it appears that MARTA has, for the most part, effectively limited itself to being pretty much a transportation option of last resort for those who either can’t afford to or are incapable of driving, or at least that’s how the general public perceives the agency…at least until a spike in gas prices forces those commuters and motorists headed inside 285 who would otherwise drive to look at public transit as an option. It doesn’t do a transit agency like MARTA and the public it serves much good to keep its fares articifically low just to try and accommodate the homeless and the less fortunate amongst us as it is those to whom MARTA has lowered the bar to help who get hurt the most when the agency has to repeatedly cut service due to lack of funding from a very poor fare structure and phantom state funding that will never come. If MARTA’s fares were in the $3.00-$5.00 range that is needed to provide the all-around more comprehensive service to ALL socioeconomic segments of a major metro area instead of attempting to fund an increasingly bare-bones service with $2.00 fares so that they can continue to accommodate the poorest of the poor then the entire metro area could benefit including the poor who would have to worry less about continued cuts to the train and bus service that they depend on solely to get around. Charging a minimum of $3.00 during off-peak times, a minimum of $5.00 during rush-hour and extending train and maybe some bus service to run overnights and charging at least $5.00 for that overnight service would be a great start to helping this region with its transportation “issues” because with the greatly increased fares would come greatly increased service.


April 21st, 2011
4:48 am

hey wingfield, maybe you should follow one of your heroes lead, sarah palin, and right ‘cut taxes’ on your hand too, so you can remember it better. now here’s the other thing to learn, TOLLS ARE TAXES. why can’t any republican get this simple fact?


April 21st, 2011
4:51 am

Is it just me or does anyone else see a correlation to the last time we had $4.00/gallon gasoline and the collapse of the credit and mortgage markets? Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but it does seem that the spiraling cost of financing speculator dividends pushed the whole teetering cart over the cliff’s edge. People will pay for fuel and tires needed to get to work, before making their credit/loan payments that are funded by their earnings. Now that 10% of the unemployed population have fewer reasons to pour petroleum into their vehicles, I wonder for how long the laws of supply and demand will continue to favor the oil markets.

Yes, tolling or some form of user fee – unlike the one we pay at the pump – is the only way to balance the books to build AND operate roads, rails, and the things that get us from point A to B.

Moronic arguments like “why should we pay again for what we’ve already paid to build” are emblematic of the myopia that infects our culture> Word-up: via motor fuel tax, we pay EVERY TIME we fill-up the tank. We pay to subsidize the construction and maintenance of the roads on which we drive. We pay to subsidize the transportation of goods to our local grocer. We pay to subsidize the use of vehicles we’ve already paid to own. We pay to subsidize Goodyear Tire and Rubber who wisely relieved us of the privately-owned streetcar/trolley system that once carried our grandparents from home to work to market, so they could guarantee we’d buy their products every few years.unsustainable products every few years.

Other states are exploring the elimination of the fuel tax and the implementation of a tax based on miles driven and/or the time of day when travel occurs (i.e., congestion pricing). The motor fuel tax and highway trust fund have been around just long enough that most alive today don’t remember a time when we lived without them, but we did and we will, simply because we must.

Not Blind

April 21st, 2011
8:16 am

The problem isn’t lack of money for roads or any other reasonable govenment expenditure. It’s the unreasonable government expenditures that are the problem.

Buzz G

April 21st, 2011
8:17 am

Side Note,

You have my vote for best comment of the day.


April 21st, 2011
8:23 am

So the lying Republican’s are not EVER going to take the GA 400 toll down are they Kyle ?

The Republican’s are charging all types of fees, and All the fees are ending up in the general funds to be used for what ever they desire, like an open check book for the crooked.


April 21st, 2011
8:35 am

As I recall the USA sent over $30 billion overseas for oil in March 2011. Any way you say it, we all know that is just plain dumb.

So yeah, lets try something different.

If we have the courage.

Get on with it

April 21st, 2011
8:35 am

Exactly what we need. I watch every day to see empty busses and 1 or 2 people on the marta busses. So, lets put extra taxes on people so busses and rail go where no people actually go. Yea, thats fixing the transit. Oh yea, raise the rates for people who do actually use it and take it away from government so it can at least be ran for a profit.


April 21st, 2011
8:41 am

Last time gas prices went up the media, including the AJC hyperventilated. Every issue wall full of stories about the pain and agony caused by high gas prices. The tin foil hat folks on the left whined about “big oil”. Tucker, Bookman and Lucovich blamed Bush.


Well, the media including the AJC doesn’t have much to say? The president says “get used to it” and “buy a new car”. The lefties and thier pundits are silent.

I wonder what is different?

Oh yeah…there is a democrat in the presidency.


April 21st, 2011
8:42 am

Mama Says: “Taxes are taken from us to build the roadways, we should not have to pay to use what we have already paid to use”

You paid to build the road, not to maintain it indefinitely.

I think there should be a toll on every major highway/road before crossing/turning onto 285 while coming into and out of atlanta during peak hours. Exempt buses, truck and carpools of more than 4. That will ease congestion and promote public tranportation, as well as provide new incentives for private investment in more public transportation.

*And yes, this will affect me as well. I’ll GLADLY pay $1 each day ($.50 each toll?) to have less traffic and a faster commute


April 21st, 2011
8:43 am

Well said, WillieRae

stands for decibels

April 21st, 2011
8:51 am

We could fund infrastructure by using a method that’s already in place, costs absolutely nothing to administer in order to increase that revenue stream, and which we can pretty accurately project revenues a few years out at minimum…

or we could come up with incredibly complicated, expensive methods to collect the same revenue.

lemme think about this awhile.

stands for decibels

April 21st, 2011
8:52 am

JF McNamara

April 21st, 2011
9:30 am

I like the way it is done now. Companies need revenue. When they need more, they raise rates. Plus, once you seed control of your roads, you are at their mercy. They become our city planners.

Good roads and infrastructure are something we need for viable commerce. It a clear public monopoly.

If someone wants to build a road, then buy land and do so. If the thought is to put tolls on existing roads, then that’s a clear NO. I’m not getting charged for something I already paid for once. Its not happening.


April 21st, 2011
9:40 am

I used to vote for Libertarian candidates, oinking hogs like Staley have convinced me not to do so any more. He airily states we’re not going to give up our cars so we just better build the h3ll out of the road network. Since when did god decree we must maintain a road system so SoccerMom can blast the a/c as she swerves about, yakking on her cellphone?

Of course cars are more comfortable. Problem is, comfort and luxury require more resources. If Mr. Staley wasn’t in this for himself, he’d acknowledge the plain fact those Mandarin speakers grasping his business card are going to buy lots of oil. That means rising gas prices. China has over a billion people. There is no way anyone can drill and produce enough oil to keep the price from skyrocketing.

Libertarians used to advocate less government and more personal freedom. Now they’re all about money grubbing and making sure we enlarge the gap between haves and have-nots. Instead of the party of personal responsibility, we have the party of screw everyone, I’m gonna do what I want, and you better pay for it.

Justan Observer

April 21st, 2011
9:41 am

“Motorists will be able to access new lanes, or perhaps new highways, if they’re willing to pay for the privilege of moving at a guaranteed speed. An example is the network of high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes planned for metro Atlanta, which Staley called “way ahead of the curve” nationally.”

Not sure I buy this. With limited real estate available, by the time the road is completed, the volume of traffic has already overtaken the capacity. Think of the HOV connector lanes during the morning / evening commute. The only way HOT lanes provide a “guaranteed speed” would be to set the fee so high as to prevent many from using, and thereby keeping lane occupancy down.

Kyle Wingfield

April 21st, 2011
9:47 am

saywhat?: Say what, indeed. What we are talking about here is replacing a gas tax that pays for transportation infrastructure with a toll (or other form of user pricing, I guess) that pays for transportation infrastructure. It’s not as if the gas tax overfunds transportation now, and that there’s extra money to go for, say, Medicaid.

As for what happens after the road is paid for, or other future scenarios: It’s all about the contract. Any public-private partnership, or privatization for that matter, is only as good as the contract to which the government and the private parties agree.

Kyle Wingfield

April 21st, 2011
9:53 am

Georgia Voter: You seem to be under the impression that you’re paying nothing for infrastructure now. If you drive a car, you are paying for infrastructure via the gas tax; we’re simply talking about changing the way you pay for infrastructure from a gas tax to a toll. So, your line about not being able to choose to go to work doesn’t really make sense.

Relatedly, no one has disputed Staley’s notion that we’re going to have to replace the gas tax sometime in the next 30 years. If you don’t like the idea of a toll, fine — come up with another idea, or an argument about why the gas tax might survive after all.

But all this ranting — by a lot of commenters today — about suddenly having to pay something, as if you’re not paying something now, is rubbish.

Kyle Wingfield

April 21st, 2011
9:55 am

Mile Marker: People in rural areas pay gas taxes, too. So, if we switch from a gas-tax funding system to one based on usage, i.e. tolls, it stands to reason rural areas can make that switch, too. Either that, or find another funding mechanism that suits them better.

Kyle Wingfield

April 21st, 2011
9:57 am

Le Bourgeois: What do you think we’re talking about here, other than a “straightforward dedicated tax for roads”? That’s exactly what a toll is: a tax on road usage, used to build more roads. What would you prefer to tax instead?

Kyle Wingfield

April 21st, 2011
9:58 am

Itsmeagain: Are gas taxes also a huge step backwards? Why do you think a toll would necessarily be less affordable?

Kyle Wingfield

April 21st, 2011
10:00 am

MHS: It’s quite common, in a public-private partnership, for ownership of the road to revert to the public after the cost of construction is repaid. In fact, there’s nothing to say that the road’s ownership couldn’t be public the entire time. Like I said earlier, it’s all about the contract.

Kyle Wingfield

April 21st, 2011
10:03 am

Not Blind: The problem is that the way we collect money for roads, according to Staley’s argument, is going to change. If you don’t like tolls, propose another idea for replacing the gas tax.

Kyle Wingfield

April 21st, 2011
10:04 am

Get on with it: Staley’s point is not that we should use tolls primarily for the benefit of public buses, only that buses would be one beneficiary of that system.

Kyle Wingfield

April 21st, 2011
10:05 am

stands for decibels: The point is that the “method that’s already in place” isn’t going to last. If you’d like to explain why Staley is wrong on that point, feel free.

Kyle Wingfield

April 21st, 2011
10:10 am

Aquagirl @ 9:40: Your comment makes me think you didn’t even read the piece. Staley’s entire point is that China *is* going to buy more oil. From there, he argues that the majority of people will prefer to find alternative fuels for their cars because people like cars.

I infer that your alternative view is that we should invest in more public transit. If so, I don’t know how you can argue with a straight face that this doesn’t require more (public) resources, or that public transit leads to “less government and more personal freedom.”

Btw, Staley is not at all anti-transit. He said said Tuesday that the next book he wants to write would be titled “Saving Transit.” He’s simply pragmatic enough to realize that cars, and thus roads, are not going away. Do you really believe he’s wrong about that?

JF McNamara

April 21st, 2011
10:32 am

Your responses left me even more confused.

The gas tax is used to collect revenue to build and maintain roads. Currently, my city planner takes that money and decides what to do with it.

Under the toll system, a private contractor will build a road under the direction of the public sector and be repaid through a toll system? After which time they will give the road back to the public.

From your responses, that’s how I understand it. If so, that ludicrous. We’re basically adding a markup to our roads to pay a private contractor and putting up toll booths that will NEVER be taken down and will be used as tax revenue into perpetuity.

Can you explain this better?

Le Bourgeois

April 21st, 2011
10:35 am

Kyle, yes a toll is straightforward and supposedly dedicated for a certain roadway. But what about all the other state routes? Are you going to charge anyone that uses I-85 such a high toll so as to pay for the rest of the states roads that are non-tolled. Secondly, public private partnerships get messy and are often subject to abuse and fraud. Third, tolls never seem to go away but only increase in cost.
I appreciate you pointing out alternatives to out current broken system but to put in place another expensive system of paying for roads while not completely dismantling the old gdot model leaves us with two transportation systems. This does little for streamlining and reforming government.

As for a tidy dedicated tax. Add a flat fee (tax) to each vahicle registration each year. Everyone in the state shall pay the same for driving privileges on state roads. The local tax commissioner will remit this to the DOR each month.

Kyle Wingfield

April 21st, 2011
10:42 am

JF: The point is that the gas tax isn’t going to survive, and that we need to find a new system of raising revenues. Yes, there will probably be toll booths that are never taken down — just as the gas tax has been in place for decades. You have to think of this as a replacement for the revenue system we have now.

Could the state build the roads itself and receive the tolls? Sure. But then taxpayers would have to take on all the upfront costs, and all the risk; not having to do these things may well be worth the cost of the private company’s markup. And it’s not entirely clear to me that the markup would outweigh the inefficiencies built into our current system — including, but not limited to, the building of some roads as political pet projects.

Again, it’s all about the contract.

Kyle Wingfield

April 21st, 2011
10:49 am

Le Bourgeois:

1. I think the point is that, just as people in all parts of the state pay gas taxes, people in all parts of the state would switch to a toll system.

2. It’s not clear to me that PPPs will be any more inclined to abuse and fraud than an entirely public system. I can’t say this often enough: It’s all about the contract.

3. Right, many of these tolls won’t go away, and some of them may rise in cost. How is that different from the gas tax?

4. You’re right that a move to a system that makes greater use of private capital and private operators would need to go along with a greatly slimmed-down GDOT — one that’s a tiny fraction of its current size.

5. Do you really think that a flat fee per driver is more fair than a user fee? That someone who drives 60 miles round-trip to work each day should pay as much toward road building and maintenance as someone with a 5-mile commute? Or, to put it another way, someone who takes MARTA to work every day but keeps a car for other uses? That’s not the way it works now, with those who use more gas contributing more taxes.

Le Bourgeois

April 21st, 2011
10:49 am

As for the upfront costs that are covered in markup from a private company, the state government can use low interest bonds to front the cost of road construction until revenues come in to pay the bonds back on schedule. Do this instead of drastically adding private sector markup on roads ANC transit projects. Local governments do this routinely with SPLOST projects.

JF McNamara

April 21st, 2011
10:58 am

I’m still not sold, but at least I understand the points better. Thanks.

It wasn’t made clear why the gas tax has to go away. If people use less gas, we have less traffic and need fewer roads and less maintenence. Hence our needs go down along with our revenue stream, right? The gas tax (as a percent of total price) is actually less, so if we can maintain that it will become nominal over time, right?

There isn’t much risk in toll building. We’ve already done it and have a process in place (ie GA 400). There will be innefficiencies in the new system as well. As long as humans are in the process there will be pet projects, etc.

This seems like a cash grab by the road building lobby. Just sayin…


April 21st, 2011
11:00 am

Kyle, yes, I read the piece. Did you read my point about subsidizing the exurban warrior? The natural consequences of families who average 60 miles per day on the roads is a bunch of bottlenecks. Providing lexus lanes or toll roads or whatever you call them is a subsidy to protect those people from the consequences of their actions.

Paying a couple of dollars extra does not offset the 45 other miles you drive. Especially since your 60 mile drive is what CREATES the need for road expansion.

All transit systems will require public resources and government planning. Anyone who believes a private road system is viable is a nutcase, pure and simple. I’m not one of these fake libertarians who insists farming out a government function to private contractors somehow increases personal freedom or limits government. It’s simply adding a middleman. One who can make a whole lotta money by making friends in the government. See: Perdue, Sonny.

Of course cars and roads aren’t going away. What’s going away—because no matter how hard you kick and scream, reality wins every time—is the sprawling lifestyle that depends on using cars for long trips for basic necessities. It’s unsustainable, like relying on the wink-wink system of using illegal immigrants for cheap labor.

Pandering to childish me-first impulses, regardless of long-term consequences is not good public policy. People who dress this junk in libertarian clothes are not libertarians, they’re a-holes.

Le Bourgeois

April 21st, 2011
11:01 am

Re: Kyle’s points.

1: that’s a lot of tollways to set up…
2: agreed. It’s all about the contract AND oversight from my experiences with PPPs
3: agreed sir.
4: in my work with the GDOT I am very unimpressed. It needs to be reduced to it’s core anyway.
5: that’s the problem with taxes, they are never fair to everyone. Didn’t you recenty write about the good of flattening and broadening the tax base?