Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Toll road revenues may become as addictive as crack to D.C. politicians

Council Members Explore Tolls at D.C. Borders

May 2, 2007

The Associated Press
Copyright 2007

WASHINGTON - Some D.C. lawmakers want to study the idea of installing toll booths at the city's borders to collect money from commuters and visitors.

D.C. Council member Marion Barry introduced legislation Tuesday that would create a commission to consider toll locations as well as the traffic and economic impact of such a program. The commission would then publish a report of its findings.

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

Barry did not suggest a price for the tolls, saying that would be for the commission to determine. His legislation was co-sponsored by council members Harry Thomas Jr. and Kwame Brown.

Brown said the study is important to calculate how much money the city is losing by not operating toll booths.

"I have friends that drive in from Virginia and say, 'What's wrong with your roads?"' 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."

Charging commuters is not a new idea. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty has said he would be willing to explore a congestion tax, a daily fee for bringing a car into the city's downtown.

Despite the district's strong economic footing, the city faces a gap of up to $1.2 billion a year between how much revenue it can collect and how much it needs to operate, according to a federal study. The disparity is partly blamed on the city's inability to tax the income of about 480,000 people who work in D.C. but live elsewhere.

Congress explicitly banned a commuter tax, but tolls are perhaps a loophole, supporters of the bill said.

John Townsend, a spokesman for the auto club AAA Mid-Atlantic, warned that Barry's proposal could have unintended consequences, such as causing jobs and people to flee the city.

"The bill will make commutes into the district more painful, more expensive and more stressful," Townsend said. "Overnight, the toll booths would create the worst traffic chokepoints in the region."

© 2007 The Associated Press:

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