This terrible toll road idea is on a roll

07/19/2014 5:10 PM

07/19/2014 5:10 PM

On Friday, the World’s Worst Idea gained a powerful ally.

There is a movement afoot to unleash big yellow graders from the edge of uptown to the shores of Lake Norman. Their mission would be to create a mileslong mirage, a Charlotte-to-Mooresville illusion of futuristic transportation.

They are called toll lanes, and they are the next big thing among the people who can’t figure out how to satisfy the public’s need for adequate expressways in a state that charges one of the highest fuel taxes in the nation.

Climbing on the steam roller Friday and endorsing the magical thinking of toll wizards was the Charlotte Chamber, a highly influential engine of growth in the region. Through a video posted on YouTube, the chamber parroted the bullet points being espoused by certified transportation geniuses in Raleigh who maintain:

•  Garsh, it’ll be 20 years before we could possibly find enough money to expand by a lane or two one of the state’s busiest and most congested highways from our biggest city to its exploding suburbs to the north.
•  Gawl-lee, we need to find creative solutions because the fuel tax just isn’t what it used to be back in the good-old gas-guzzler days.
•  And, sha-zam, the best thing would be to get a company from Spain to come here and help us build some highway lanes and, in exchange, they can collect ransom, from motorists who can afford it, to drive on them for the next 50 years.

We are not alone in this insanity. Authorities in other Sun Belt states have stood too long in the summer sun and let their brains bake, too.

Toll lanes have sprouted where free lanes should be, and they have done the thing they were designed to do. They have let a few motorists buy their way past the clogged-up masses while manipulating the price ever upward to ensure the congestion continues.

Toll lanes remain mostly vacant along I-85 in Atlanta two years after they were installed, though they are seeing a little more business, which is encouraging operators to jerk the toll rates ever higher. Are they doing anything to relieve congestion?

Are you nuts? Of course not. It turns out, say Georgia transportation officials, that they weren’t built to relieve back-ups but to manage them. “Manage” them seems to mean that these lanes sit mostly empty so rich people can get where they’re going while riff-raff like you and me inch along.

Another great success of the Atlanta project is the financial bounty. It cost $7.4 million to pay for the electronic toll lanes in fiscal 2013 but they only brought in $5.7 million. But, hey, it’s Atlanta and it’s a world-class city. We should do what they do.

Plus, they’re going to raise the prices as soon as traffic gets worse.

Worry about us, instead. This disastrous idea is starting to get traction.

About Mark Washburn

Mark Washburn

@washburnchobs

Mark Washburn writes television and radio commentary for The Charlotte Observer.

Email Mark at mwashburn@charlotteobserver.com or call him at 704-358-5007

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