Throw the Toll Gates Open!

I spent all of June traveling the toll roads of Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey. The amount of construction was considerable ... and rather disconcerting as many of the projects seem to have hardly advanced since my last major time spent in the area, in 2008-9. Yet, like millions of others, I had to stop and hand somebody money or throw quarters into a bucket (or have my newly re-acquired EZ Pass debited). Why should commuters pay full toll when the roads are slow due to seemingly never ending construction projects?

The founders, who formed numerous toll roads to tie their young nation together politically and economically, had a solution to bad roads and construction delays: throwing the toll gates open. Why not institute the practice adopted by New York in 1804,* which stipulated that turnpike commissioners could force turnpike companies to stop charging tolls if they determined that their roads' condition impeded the regular flow of traffic? Today, instead of having the brunt of the cost fall on stockholders (of which there aren't really any as most of today's toll roads are so called public corporations owned by governments), deduct any shortfalls in toll revenue from the pool in which turnpike executives draw their salaries and benefits. Under the new incentives, construction projects will be completed much more quickly and with much less waste of commuters' time and patience, guaranteed.

*For details, see Daniel Klein and John Majewski, “Economy, Community, and
Law: The Turnpike Movement in New York, 1797-1845,” Law and Society Review 26, 3 (1992): 492-93.


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