“The Trouble With Tolls” Gets It Completely Wrong

I submitted this letter to the Washington Times a week ago, but since it has not run there, I figured I’d post it here:

Your editorial “The trouble with tolls” completely misses the point: the toll road was built with private money, not tax dollars. The private company that paid for and built San Diego’s South Bay Expressway is suffering all of the financial losses. Taxpayers haven’t lost a dime. And yes, the private sector over-estimated traffic. But again, who is paying the consequences? The private company, not taxpayers. If that project was a government-built “freeway,” taxpayers would have shelled out over $843 million so far.

In the DC area, and across the nation, private capital is allowing transportation agencies to build vital infrastructure – and in the South Bay Expressway case, completely shift the risk away from taxpayers. This is essential for meeting our transportation needs.

Remember, 15 years ago the Dulles Greenway went through similar financial troubles. Thankfully, Virginia didn’t have to go to taxpayers for more money to bail it out or make up for lost revenue. Instead the private owners bore the costs and today the road is a successful and vital part of Northern Virginia’s transportation network.

As for Gov. Bob McDonnell’s HOT lane plans for I95/395 that your editorial argues against: Virginia doesn’t have the money to finance, build or maintain the needed new lanes. So the choices are clear: do nothing, add toll lanes, or raise taxes to pay for more lanes. Gov. McDonnell has wisely chosen toll lanes. Only those drivers who choose to use the toll lanes will pay for them. Unfortunately, it sounds like the Times would prefer a tax increase or to do nothing and let traffic congestion get even worse.


Shirley Ybarra
Senior Transportation Policy Analyst, Reason Foundation
Former Secretary of Transportation, Virginia