Toll roads not the answer to Florida’s traffic woes

There is hardly a Floridian who has never complained about traffic in the state. The cry for drastic measures to alleviate traffic jams, thereby shortening long commutes, has been heard for years. But the push toward toll roads, a trend that can be found in virtually every traffic-intensive area around the country, is not the right way to go about solving the problem.

A recent article in The New York Times shined a spotlight on such toll roads, which often function as express routes on or near already-existing roadways. The Times described the situation on Interstate 91, where fast lanes nicknamed “the 91 Express” can be found next to “normal” lanes that remain free of charge.

Locals quickly nicknamed the lanes “Lexus lanes, first class on asphalt,” as it costs up to $11 per round trip to change a two-hour commute to work into a 30-minute zip, the Times wrote.

The appeal is obvious: Those who can pay will zoom past the heavy traffic, saving the hassle of standing in traffic for hours.

But the downside of this approach is that those who cannot afford to pay the fees on a regular basis are degraded to second-class citizens.

In California the situation is even more dire than in Florida. Commutes of around four hours, while not the norm, are increasingly considered acceptable. It is therefore understandable that the state felt drastic measures were in order. But that does not mean it is an example the state of Florida should follow.

Aside from the financial setback such roadways will prove to be to those who will have to use it regularly — if they are lucky enough to be able to come up with the funds — it also opens all the problems associated with privatization of a public sector.

As such “fast lanes” are usually operated by private companies, the state government largely gives up control over an area that will be heavily used by many of its constituents. In some cases this means everything will be fine, but if things go wrong, as was recently the case when a section of Tampa’s Crosstown Expressway sunk several feet, setting construction back by months. The money needed to rebuild the bride also left the company that runs the expressway struggling for funds.

But most importantly, toll roads are not the solution to traffic problems. They are merely alleviating the symptoms — long commutes — that come along with heavy traffic. But in the long run it would be a wrong approach to bet on such techniques as such roads will fill up, just like “normal” roads do, while also creating a class system among commuters.