Until fairy wing technology improves

Today’s NYT explores the growing popularity of highway pricing:

[S]tate and federal governments, beset by deficits, say they have barely enough money to service the existing system, let alone build new roads. As a result, nearly two dozen states have passed legislation allowing their transportation systems to operate pay-as-you-go roads, and in many cases, letting the private sector build and run these roads. Social engineering is merging with traffic engineering, creating new technologies that charge people a variable toll based on how many cars are on the road – known as congestion pricing – or reduce toll rates for high occupancy to encourage car-pooling. The White House wants to allow states to charge user fees for virtually any stretch of an interstate. … [T]he number of miles driven has gone up more than 80 percent over the last two decades while the number of new highway lanes has increased by just 4 percent. So Virginia is negotiating with a private company to build and operate 14 miles of toll lanes in one of the most congested parts of the Capital Beltway. Chicago just leased its 7.8-mile skyway toll bridge to a private operator for $1.8 billion. And the vast Trans-Texas Corridor project, which would be the largest private highway system in the country, would allow corporations to charge tolls for 50 years as a way to pay for high-speed lanes in the state. … “Californians can’t get from place to place on little fairy wings,” said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in announcing a plan in January that could allow private investors to build toll roads. “We are a car-centered state. We need roads.”

And SoCal’s 91 Express lanes which use variable pricing to keep people moving:

[P]eople say they like the fact that there are no toll booths, and they can virtually guarantee being on time – for a child’s soccer match, job appointment or doctor’s visit. Average peak hour speeds on the 91 Express lanes were 60 to 65 miles an hour last year, versus 15 to 20 m.p.h. on the free lanes, according to federal officials. “It’s like everything else: you can fly coach, or you can fly first class,” said Caleb Dillon, an X-ray technician in Riverside whose commute is an hour each way. “I’m not a rich guy, but I like having the option of saving time when I really need it.”

And no article like this is complete without Bob’s take:

“It’s a big cultural shift for people all of a sudden to get used to paying for roads that were free,” said Robert Poole, of the libertarian Reason Foundation. But, he said, “people are so fed up with congestion” that they are open to change. For 17 years, Mr. Poole has been the chief theorist for private solutions to gridlock. His ideas are now embraced by officials from Sacramento to Washington.