MS. REBECCA SHEIR
I'm Rebecca Sheir and welcome back to "Metro Connection." As we continue our exploration of conserving and preserving, let's turn now to your wallet, which could feel quite the pinch if you plan on doing a lot of driving this summer. We'll find out more on our weekly transportation segment, "From A to B."
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
So let's say you're going on a road trip. You've budgeted for gas, for food, for lodging, but you might've forgotten about one little thing, tolls -- or one not so little thing, actually. As WAMU transportation reporter, David Schultz, tells us, new toll roads are cropping up around our region and existing ones are increasing fees.
MR. DAVID SCHULTZ
Kyle Achmody (sp?) and his family are traveling from their home in Northern Virginia up to New York City and Niagara Falls. Right now, they're standing near the vending machines at a rest stop off of I-95 in Scaggsville, Md. Kyle says the cost of tolls will add up for his family's vacation caravan.
MR. KYLE ACHMODY
Yeah, I'm actually concerned because we're two cars -- we have two cars. So each one, probably, it's going to be, like, $70, $80 just because of the tolls.
Residents in McLean, Va. are also worried about tolls, but for a different reason. The cost to drive on the Dulles toll road has crept up slowly over the past few years and is at $2 now and dramatic increases are expected in the near future. Rob Jackson with the McLean Neighborhood Association is worried that at some point, driving on the highway will become unaffordable.
MR. ROB JACKSON
One you hit 5, 6, 7, they're talking as high as $11 in the future per one-way trip. You know, unless we have incredible inflation, you're going to see more and more people saying, I'm just not going to pay that.
And that means more commuters will avoid the toll road and opt instead for the local roads that cut right through Jackson's community.
These are two-lane roads and I don't think they'd be easily widened. The right-a-way costs will be immense and I don't think the neighbors would want a four, six-lane road going through their neighborhood.
These kinds of issues are cropping up all across the country. Ron Kirby is a transportation planner with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. He says states and cities are looking to toll roads as a solution to their transportation funding problems.
MR. RON KIRBY
There isn't enough revenue to add new facilities, there's barely enough to maintain and operate what we have so this is the place people are turning to.
The only problem is, any new toll roads have to win approval from local political leaders. Kirby has been studying the political feasibility of toll roads here in the D.C. region and he says, surprisingly, many people are actually fine with building new toll roads. But...
When you start changing tolls on roads they're depending on, raising them or proposing to put tolls on roads that are not yet tolled, that's a very different matter.
For example, there are plans to raise tolls by almost $2 on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, which is just about the only way to get to and from Maryland's Eastern Shore, by car that is. That doesn't sit too well with Mike McDermott, a republican state legislator from the Eastern Shore, speaking at a recent public hearing.
MR. MIKE MCDERMOTT
We've been carrying the Western shore far too long. The day has come for you to get off our back.
The political response to a series of new toll roads in the D.C. region has been, shall we say, a little more subdued. One new toll highway, the ICC opened earlier this year in Maryland and another the Beltway HOT lane project in Northern Virginia is under construction. And a third, Virginia's I-95 HOT lane project is in the planning stages. So it seems like Ron Kirby's theory holds true, building a new toll road is totally doable, at least as far as politics are concerned, but raising tolls on an existing road much more difficult. It's a sign that tolling is probably not a panacea, states and cities desperate for more transportation funding. I'm David Schultz.
And for more on the potential of this new tolling trend, visit our website,metroconnection.org.
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