Los Angeles (February 28, 2006) – A new study finds that Southeastern Wisconsin’s planned $6.2 billion freeway modernization would provide only a temporary fix for the region’s growing traffic congestion. But a network of variable-priced toll lanes, if included in the plan, would permanently offer buses and emergency vehicles free access to lanes that are guaranteed to move at the maximum speed limit, and tolled access to the same uncongested lanes for automobile drivers who are willing to pay a fee.
The Reason Foundation plan comes complete with an advertising slogan for the lanes, “For A Speedier Trip: Use the FAST Lanes,” and details a network of toll lanes that would encompass the approaches to downtown on I-94 from the south and from the west, on I-43 and US 45 from the north, plus the inner core of freeways near downtown (I-894 and I-94/43 north-south, and I-94 and I-43 east-west).
“These locations are prime candidates for FAST Lanes because even after current widening plans are implemented, there will still be significant delays in the not-so-distant future,” said Kevin Soucie, a policy consultant at Soucie & Associates, co-author of the report, and a former Wisconsin legislator. “It’s time to ensure that we are getting the maximum value out of our investments to expand freeway capacity. At the same time, we can improve mass transit, speed up the performance of emergency vehicles, and offer every driver an uncongested alternative on Milwaukee’s busiest freeways. With the guarantee of free-flowing lanes —Freeway Flyers’ that are now stuck in traffic will offer commuters a legitimate time-saving alternative. And we shouldn’t underestimate the value of giving our law enforcers and paramedics a lane that allows them to get where they’re going as quickly as possible.”
The price to use the FAST Lanes would vary with demand, meaning drivers would pay higher prices during rush hours and much lower rates at off-peak times. Drivers wouldn’t need to slow down to make payments and there would be no toll booths. Instead, all payments would be made electronically, via windshield-mounted transponders, which have been utilized for years in Southern California’s successful variable-priced lanes.
“Whether you need to make it to your child’s soccer game or catch a plane, everyone has times when they would pay to get out of congestion,” said Robert Poole, director of transportation at Reason Foundation, co-author of the study, and an advisor to the last four presidential administrations. “These FAST lanes would offer every driver a bit of congestion insurance for the days we simply can’t afford to be stuck in traffic.”
The new Reason report demonstrates that rush-hour tolls of 15 cents per mile (in 2005 dollars) would generate $13 million in revenue in the lanes’ first year of use, projected to be 2013. By 2028, annual revenues would exceed $100 million, with the funds helping to pay the cost of freeway rebuilding. Because of the positive financial forecast, over $1 billion in toll revenue bonds – at no taxpayer risk – could be issued to help with the projected $6.2 billion cost of region’s freeway modernization efforts.
“For some perspective, the non-tax toll revenue bond could finance the cost of rebuilding the entire Marquette Interchange with money left over,” Soucie said. “That’s a significant sum, considering it can be raised without increasing taxes or forcing people to pay tolls. Choosing whether or not to use the lanes is completely up to each individual driver.”