Taking A Toll On The People
Why toll roads are absolutely the worst way to raise revenue
2008 Selwyn Duke
driving north on the New Jersey Turnpike (I-95), heading toward the Big Apple.
Cruising along, you pass exits 7, then 8, 9, 10 and 11, and everything is fine.
Then you come to exit 12, and traffic starts to slow down; soon, it’s a New
York bumper-to-bumper nightmare, the worst kind. Creeping along like an inchworm
missing a few millimeters, you know that traffic will abate just down the road,
just a few miles – and an hour and a half – away. You also know why:
I-95 and George Washington Bridge (GWB) tolls.
be fair, the delays aren’t always this severe; usually they are not. Yet, I, a
man who takes the route only rarely, have been in that very situation more than
I care to tell, fuming as much as my car, grumbling about the insanity of
Northeastern politicians, ready to split a vein. It makes me feel like the
Kingston Trio’s Charlie,
the Man Who Never Returned (alas, yes, I know it’s an obscure reference).
is why, while I’ve never been enamored of any government, I always held my
region’s apparatchiks in a sort of unique contempt. I would love venturing
down south because there was a certain release.
Once I escaped – and, yes, it really does feel like an escape – the
bounds of northeastern road-policy cruelty, well . . . ah.
I’d just have to get beyond the $6.45 New Jersey Turnpike toll (which
NJ’s “Governor” Corzine aims to raise precipitously), $3.00 Delaware
Memorial Bridge toll, $4.00 Delaware Turnpike toll (35.7 cents per mile), and it
was smooth sailing. Oh, I know I may be forgetting a toll, and I should also
mention that on the return trip I could look forward to the $5.00 John F.
Kennedy Memorial Highway toll and $6.00 GWB fleecing.
once in the South, I could breathe a sigh of relief. Not only was the traffic
less severe, but the speed limits were higher, there was no Orwellian E-ZPass,
and – it’s just enough to make you want to sing “Dixie” – there were,
by and large, no infernal tolls. It was a feeling of freedom.
I knew it wouldn’t last.
knows no geographical boundaries, and I’m dismayed to hear that Tennessee’s
Governor Phil Bredesen signed a bill
into law that will allow for the institution of tolls. And, make no mistake,
once tolls gain a foothold in your state, you will never be rid of them. So,
friends, Tennesseans, countrymen, lend me your ear.
we may be divided along ideological lines, about this matter there should be no
debate. Why? Well, we may disagree
on how much revenue the government should raise, but there is no doubt that
tolls are absolutely the worst way of collecting it.
Tolls Cause More Damage to the Environment
this age of obsession about CO2 and the “Greenhouse Effect,” it’s amazing
that I, a global warming skeptic, am the first commentator (as far as I know) to
raise this issue. When all those millions of cars per year wait in line at toll
plazas, they’re idling, spewing fumes into the air and wasting gasoline. Now,
regardless of where you stand on global warming, unless you’re the Smog
Monster, I think you’ll agree with a simple proposition: Pollution is bad.
Furthermore, waste is bad. Lastly, sending more greenbacks than necessary to
Mideast oil sheiks is bad. Are we in agreement thus far?
then a simple corollary presents itself: Raising revenue through tolls is
self-destructive and quite stupid.
I have a challenge for toll-advocating politicians. So many of you, such as NYC
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, NY Governor Eliot Spitzer and Governor Corzine, will
happily pontificate about the perils of global warming, about how citizens have
to sacrifice to reduce their carbon footprint (I know where I’d like to put a
carbon footprint). I want you to put your money – and, really, it’s our
money – where your mouth is. Eliminating tolls will greatly mitigate all the
problems you pay lip service to, while making the people’s lives easier. C’mon, you talk the talk about the importance of
sacrificing for the good of Mother Earth and posterity.
are you going to start?
speaking of hypocrisy, I note that politicians often make a great show of their
desire to reduce traffic congestion. Why, Mayor Bloomberg proposed charging
drivers a “congestion fee” of $8 for cars and $21 for trucks to enter
parts of Manhattan during part of the day. But why are traffic-reducing plans
that would fleece the people enthusiastically proposed, while those that would
not do so don’t even seem to occur to these paragons of administration? I bet
even your average New York Times
journalist could answer that one.
eliminating the congestion caused by tolls yields other benefits, too. Waiting
on highways causes lost productivity and impacts on family life, as people could
be spending that time at work or home; it increases wear on vehicles, leading to
greater repair costs; and it causes stress, which can induce a variety of
disorders and ailments.
I have a warning. There is one great exception to the rule that it’s easier to
destroy than create: Big government programs and revenue measures. This is true
even when they have a sunset clause. While few remember this today, when toll
roads and bridges were built about 50 years ago, the agreement was that tolls
would only be in place until the government recouped the cost of the
infrastructure’s construction. It was another broken promise by a broken
once tolls are institutionalized, it’s likely you will never, ever turn back
the clock. In fact, the opposite happens; as incompetent politicians realize
that tolls can be used to balance mismanaged budgets, they are raised
inexorably. Case in point: While the Triboro Bridge (NYC) toll was 25 cents
through the 1960s, it will be $5 each
way as of March 16, 2008. Then, I’ll hark back to my little NJ to NYC
trip, the one that takes me over the GWB. Just to ensure that I fully appreciate
the privilege of sitting on their hallowed highway for longer than I deserve,
the politicians charge me a combined rate of more than $9.00. Well, at least it
reminds me of how much I love government.
there are solutions. First, any politician proposing a toll should be hanged. If
your state’s laws are so backward as to prohibit such remedial action,
however, such a public official should be impeached; if even this proves
impossible, your only recourse of voting him out of office should be exercised.
of elections, here is an idea for an enterprising politician. Run for governor
on a very simple platform:
promise to eliminate all tolls.
it. Nothing more.
can see it now: Campaign commercials showing bumper-to-bumper traffic, road
rage, and smog. Just play up the pollution angle; it’ll work like a charm.
It’s both populist and politically correct; it’s where the Machiavellian
meets the moral. It’s a winner.
don’t forget your campaign slogan.
the trolls out of the statehouse and the tolls off the bridges.
Selwyn Duke is a freelance writer out or Larchmont, NY. He has written for various publications including: IntellectualConservative.com, AmericanThinker.com and is a regular columnist for RenewAmerica.us.