Wednesday, May 2, 2007

D.C. Council member Marion Barry says that if the District wants to be a big-time city, then it’s time to tax like a big-time city.

Mr. Barry and other council members are pushing to install toll booths at city limits for out-of-town motorists, frustrated by commuters and visitors’ effect on the city’s roads and economy.

“If you go to any other state or city, you’ll find toll booths,” said Mr. Barry, Ward 8 Democrat. “You go to New York, all up and down I-95, you’ll find toll booths — any place except the District.”

Mr. Barry introduced legislation yesterday to start a commission that would study the feasibility of collecting toll from traffic entering the city.

Under Mr. Barry’s proposal, the study would consider the locations, structure, traffic and economic impact of such a program and publish a report of its findings. Mr. Barry did not suggest a price for the tolls, saying that would be for the commission to determine.

“More than 400,000 nonresidents are on our streets every day, getting police protection, fire protection, causing potholes. … We love them, but they ought to pay some money for tearing up our streets,” Mr. Barry said.

The legislation was co-sponsored by council members Harry Thomas Jr. and Kwame Brown.

Mr. Brown, at-large Democrat, said the study is important to gauge how much money the District is losing by not operating toll booths.

“I have friends that drive in from Virginia and say, ‘What’s wrong with your roads?’ ” Mr. Brown said. “Well, if you pay a quarter, like you would if you go out to Reston, then we’d have the same amenities you have.”

D.C. officials have long argued the city should be able to collect income tax from those who work in the city but live elsewhere.

“Obviously, there are people that live in Maryland and Virginia who aren’t going to like this,” Mr. Barry said. “They don’t like it? Then give us a commuter tax.”

Mr. Thomas, Ward 5 Democrat, said a high priority should be taxing drivers at New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road in Northeast, one of the main thoroughfares into the city.

“The majority of those who come into our city, come through that gateway and impact upon my citizens in Ward 5 and the roadway dollars that we have there. We need to find every way possible to make sure that the citizens of the District of Columbia’s burden is reduced.”

The legislation was referred to the council’s Committee on Finance and Revenue.

Officials in the office of Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson said they had not yet seen the legislation and declined to comment. Officials in Montgomery County and Northern Virginia did not return calls for comment yesterday afternoon.

The council members cited the use of toll booths locally and nationally as a viable and accepted revenue source.

“You can’t get into Philadelphia without paying a toll,” Mr. Brown said. “If we’re going to be a big city and act like a big city, most big cities have toll booths.”

Mr. Thomas agreed.

“If you can tell me the [Chesapeake] Bay Bridge, the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel and the Dulles Toll Road have been paid for, and they still collect tolls, why shouldn’t we have a commission to look at the same issues here?”

The toll to cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge is $2.50, the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel charges $2, and the maximum toll to travel the 14-mile Dulles Toll Road is $1.75.

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