THE PODIUM | Tolls on top of taxes for basic highway improvements? Enough already!
Author: George Teal - July 25, 2018 - Updated: July 25, 2018
We all pay extra for conveniences.
It’s one of the benefits of our modern world; from dry cleaning to online shopping to the food we eat, convenience is easily bought and paid for. Want more convenience? Pull out more cash. Write a bigger check, and walk right up to the “get more, pay more” check-out line.
But is paying for convenience an appropriate relationship for us to have with our government?
And how do we, as taxpayers, view our highway systems? A “convenience” or a required benefit – even a “utility” – of our state government?
Highways are unquestionably a service (paid for through our taxes) we expect our government to provide (and keep up) so we can all get to where we are going, faster. For many Colorado residents, it’s the only tangible day-to-day interaction we have with our state government. But it’s also the part of our daily lives that many of us feel is most broken.
Few stretches of roadway in Colorado are as badly broken as the south I-25 “Gap” running between Castle Rock and Monument.
Although 26 percent of all employment in Colorado is contained within Arapahoe, Douglas and El Paso counties, the primary roadway between them has not been improved in over 50 years. And while I do commend the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) for recognizing how badly behind the times the “Gap” is – and prioritizing its expansion – the planned improvements have ALWAYS included tolled express lanes.
Never once did CDOT seriously consider using the money from tolling to pay for the needed expansion; that funding was always going to come from other sources: a higher gas tax, additional money from the Legislature, municipal governments, and federal grants.
And for the last eight years, our state’s transportation policy, as decided by the Colorado State Transportation Commission, has mandated that all expansions to Colorado’s existing highway network include tolled express lanes when an increase in capacity (one or more new lanes) is required.
Read that again: MANDATED to add an express toll lane.
Though there is evidence tolled express lanes can improve the speed and reliability for drivers on a given roadway, at what point do we ask ourselves the very fundamental question: Is it appropriate for government to charge us additionally for a “convenience” we’ve already paid for?
More to the point – would we, as taxpayers, be willing to “pay for convenience” when it comes to our law enforcement (“press 1 on your dial pad to have this 911 call expedited for a charge of .99 cents”) or fire protection (“We can send one firetruck or two to extinguish your fire – that’ll be an additional $200.”)?
Isn’t the upkeep of our state’s roads just as fundamental?
As a member of the South I-25 Gap Steering Committee for the last two years, I’ve been an active participant in discussions concerning the importance of expediting the needed improvements to the Gap between Castle Rock and Monument. And while vital decisions regarding the widening of I-25 have been made up to this point, make no mistake: the next three months are critical.
In November, voters will be tasked not only with determining who serves as our state’s chief executive (Jared Polis or Walker Stapleton) – but also what direction our government takes…
Do we continue with our current policies of expecting taxpayers to pay more money – on the front-end and the back-end – for the sake of convenience? Or will we abolish the current state transportation policy of paying for the use of our own roads through additional taxation?
What’s “convenience” – in addition to the taxes you already pay – worth to you?