- The Washington Times - Friday, December 9, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

An editorial on Dec. 2 headlined “Nobody wants toll lanes” ignores the benefits of toll roads. The 91 Express Lanes in California, for example, were purchased by the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) from the original concessionaire for $207.5 million in January 2003. OCTA saw the lanes as a benefit for all drivers in the region and a future revenue source for improvements along the corridor.

The editorial erred in describing the non-compete clause as absolute. To be accurate, the actual clause said the public agency had to consult with the concessionaire before any widening could be launched for the general-purpose road. It didn’t prevent adding lanes, as the editorial suggests.

After OCTA purchased the 91 Express Lanes, it eliminated the non-compete clause and widened the general-purpose freeway. Its “congestion pricing” model, which adjusts tolls during the day related to traffic volumes, has worked well. About 35,000 drivers choose to use the 91 Express Lanes each day, which means 35,000 fewer drivers on other roads. Today, after operating costs and bond debt service, the toll lanes are generating about $20 million a year for corridor improvements.

In addition, two lanes have been added to the 91 non-toll highway - one eastbound and one westbound. But those haven’t solved congestion, as population has continued to grow in the region. As a result, Riverside County is planning to extend the 91 Express Lanes by approximately 10 miles to the east at a cost of $1.5 billion (versus the $135 million it cost to build the original 91 Express Lanes).

For the author of the editorial to simply say, “Nobody wants toll roads” is incorrect. There are millions of users of toll facilities who benefit from the lack of congestion, save fuel, create less greenhouse gas and are able to spend more time with their families. The bottom line: Improvements can’t be made on the SR 91 corridor without toll revenues.

Toll roads draw high praise from users. OCTA conducted a survey and found 91 percent satisfaction with the 91 Express Lanes. Drivers were saving at least 30 minutes a day, which improves individual productivity and reduces stress as well as carbon emissions.

The Washington Times might want to take a look at other toll roads throughout the United States and the many benefits they provide to drivers, communities, public agencies and the environment.

GARY HAUSDORFER

CEO, Cofiroute USA

Irvine, Calif.

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