Tuesday, May 11, 2010

McDonnell's Really Bad Toll Booth Idea

Bob McDonnell's latest idea for raising revenue while pretending not to "raise" "taxes": a toll plaza on I-95 just above the North Carolina border.

McDonnell has asked the federal government for permission to erect toll booths as far north as Fredericksburg on I-95, but for now Virginia's transportation secretary says "we're just contemplating one toll facility at the North Carolina border."

The state estimates it could raise $30-$60 million annually for roads--which really isn't that much--with a $2-$4 toll at the border. The obvious appeal is that many of the vehicles crossing the border are non-Virginians, so it's a way to tax out of staters.

We remember when I-95 had toll booths from Richmond (where there used to be four of them) to Boston. They are an enormous nuisance, costing drivers tens of thousands of lost hours sitting in toll lines. Today, between Richmond and New York (and maybe all the way up to Boston--we haven't been in awhile) there's only one toll--at the Delaware border. It causes huge traffic delays. There isn't a regular driver between Washington and NYC who hasn't wanted to blow the darn thing up many a time.

(Delaware could do a lot to make it's toll plaza more efficient, but they evidently don't give a damn.)

If Virginia gets permission to put a toll at the border, you can bet that NC, SC and GA will all want to follow suit. And you can bet that once one toll plaza goes up on I-95 in Virginia, the temptation to add more--all the way up to Fredericksburg--will grow. The federal government should just say no.

Tolls are an inefficient way to collect road taxes. (Make no mistake about it, tolls are taxes.) Not only do tolls booths interfere with traffic, especially on peak holiday weekends, but it costs money to build, maintain and staff them. So, a significant portion of toll revenue is wasted in the collection effort.

We already have an efficient system in place to collect taxes dedicated to road construction and maintenance: the gas tax. Raising that tax would impose minimal additional costs of collection because the system is already in place.

Of course, McDonnell and all the other Republicans have pledged not to raise "taxes," so they don't dare propose a hike that would simply keep that tax in line, as a proportion of gas prices, with where it started.

We have an easy solution to that problem, however, Mr. Governor: simply impose a gas toll.

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