Toll Roads Term Paper

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Privatization of America's Highway Infrastructure

Brief History of Public Roads

The Role of States

Federal Efforts to Build Our Highway System

What is the Answer?

Increased corporate taxes and revenue for localities

Fears of price gouging

Competition leads to better management

Managing downside risk

Examples of privatization at work

Chicago Skyway

Considerations for future Pennsylvania projects

The future of New Jersey highways

Advantages vs. consumer fears

Hybrid techniques

Solutions must consider local situation

The Privatization of America's Highway Infrastructure

"I am aware, Gentleman, that the want of a good, permanent road is, at present, the principal defect in the communication between the middle counties and the metropolis." - Thomas Mifflin, Pennsylvania Governor 1791

Roads are one of the oldest elements of the infrastructure of any civilization. The first roads to be constructed were nothing more than paths through the wilderness. These paths allowed for easy travel by clearing the way. They also guided the traveler and showed them the way to their destination. Roads were important for the establishment of commerce and the growth of civilization. The U.S. highway system was one of the key elements that allowed for the growth of the wealth of the nation.

However, currently the funding and ownership of the U.S. highway system has come under fire. No longer able to support itself, the government is exploring many options to keep the nations' most valuable asset functioning. One of the options currently being considered is the privatization of the highway system. This research will explore many issues involved in this decision, as well as the viewpoints of opposing sides.

Brief History of Public Roads

The Federal government realized that the highway system was critical to the growth of the economy. An efficient highway system allows for the transport of goods and services. The first highway was begun in 1792 by a private company. It was authorized by the Pennsylvania State Legislature to connect the City of Philadelphia with Lancaster County (ExplorePA History). This began a trend that led to a network of toll roads. It soon became obvious that roads increased property value and provided access to sections of the nation that were otherwise difficult to reach. The road system facilitated the growth of the nation as a whole, rather than restricting it only to those areas that were accessible.

The nation's first major toll road was the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike completed in 1794. It was built and operated by a private company, the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike Road Company. This turnpike was a rock and gravel road that spanned 62 miles. Up to this point, the roads linking Philadelphia and the agricultural farms in Lancaster County were "often in terrible disrepair - with ruts, gaping holes and tree stumps that made them impassable."(ExplorePA History).

To finance the construction the company sold stock in the project. It cost more than $450,000. To recoup its investment and generate revenues, the company charged travelers tolls, paid at tollgates located every ten miles along the route. Over time, inns and taverns were built along the route and offered food and a place to stay to travelers. At the height of summer, more than 1,000 wagons traveled the turnpike each day, carrying a variety of fruits, vegetables, meats, grains and beverages product from the surrounding farms to the city. (ExplorePA History).

This turnpike became the main artery for commerce and communication between Philadelphia and the Lancaster farmlands. Although originally designed to move agricultural goods east, the Turnpike also carried travelers heading to western Pennsylvania and beyond. Despite the enormous cost of construction, the turnpike turned a profit for its investors and inspired the formation of other companies to construct paved roads. By 1804, Pennsylvania had two new turnpikes and the Lancaster turnpike extended west all the way to Pittsburgh. From 1805-1835 there were over 200 private turnpike companies, which built more than 3,000 miles of roads. (ExplorePA History).

By the 1830s, however, the Lancaster Turnpike had to contend with new developments in transportation - canals and railroads. Soon the turnpike was overshadowed by the railroad, which could move freight much faster and much more efficiently than a horse-drawn wagon on a paved road (ExplorePA History).

The U.S. highway system was the first to set a national standard for roads and highways (Cooper). The Federal Aid highway Act of 1925 was a response to confusion created by the existing network of 250 named highways. The old system used names and colored bands on telephone poles. Often the same names were used for two different highways. This was especially the case when it came to local and state roads (Cooper).

The new system would use uniform numbers for inter-state highways and a standardized shield that would be recognizable to everyone. The first roads were toll roads and allowed for private ownership. The Federal Aid Highway Act of 1925 changed the status of Toll Road ownership, giving the states authority to build and administer the highway system. People complained that they felt the new system would make the roads cold and impersonal (Cooper). It was apparent that the people did not only see the roads as functional, they were proud of them and felt they were an important part of their heritage. America's love affair with its roads continues today.

When the automobile was invented, it changed the way people thought about roads. In the urban areas, there were sufficient mass transportation systems such as streetcars and subways. However, if was different in rural parts of the nation. Cars could not travel as easily across open terrain as the horse and buggy. The railroad system made traveling across the nation easier, but this still left many parts of the country "out of the loop." When Ford standardized the production of the automobile, it created the need for a better road system. People did not think that the car would become popular, or that it would ever replace the horse and buggy. However, over 16.5 Model T's were sold, dispelling any doubts that they would become a necessity (Cooper). Along with the rise in the number of automobiles came the need for better roads.

The Role of States

As the number, weight, and size of the vehicles using the highway system grew, so did the width, strength, and materials used to construct the roads (Cooper). As states, such as California began to build their own system that suited the needs of their state, the old U.S. system began to fall into disuse. Eventually, many of these old U.S. highways were integrated into the systems of individual states (Cooper). By 1972 only 8 of the original U.S. highways remained (Cooper).

States took over funding of what had formerly been under Federal regulation and funding. Interstate highways became almost obsolete and the line between a state and federally funded highway became blurred. The burden of maintaining the highways system migrated from the federal government to a situation that placed a majority of the burden on individual states. Often there simply were not enough funds available to maintain the roads. Many fell into disrepair as a result (Cooper).

Federal Efforts to Build Our Highway System

The Eisenhower administration placed the repair and maintenance of the highway system at the top of his agenda. In 1956, the Federal Highway Act planned to fund $32.5 Billion dollars over a 13-year period to be used to build 41,000 miles of road. This project took longer than expected and was not completed until 1991.

One of the key reasons for this delay in completing this road project and for the inability to maintain existing roads is a lack of funding. There are several difficulties that contribute to the problem. There are many roads for which maintenance has been delayed. These roads are now becoming critical and the funds must be appropriated to maintain them. There is now no longer a choice in many cases. There are budget gaps between maintenance and the building of new infrastructure that let many projects slip through the cracks.

The costs of maintaining the highway system continue to rise. The number of roads that must be maintained increases over time. The costs of labor and materials to maintain the roads also continues to go up. The amount of money needed to maintain roads increases, but the government is reluctant to raise taxes to make the system self-sufficient. Political leaders are reluctant to raise the gasoline tax when combined state, local, and federal gasoline taxes already range from 26.4 center per gallon in Alaska to 60.8 cents in New York. The Federal tax represents 18.4 cents of these totals. Government officials fear repercussions from the public if they increase the tax any more. The funding of the highway system in the United States is a growing problem, one for which funds are short and solutions are few.

What is the Answer?

The problems facing the maintenance and growth of the American highway system have grown to epidemic proportions. If a solution to the problem cannot… [END OF PREVIEW]

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