Originally Published: January 26, 2017 6:02 a.m.
Few argue that Interstate 17 needs improvements, especially if you are one of the people caught in a five-hour delay while first responders clear a collision that has closed down part of the highway. The proposal to add two reversible lanes seems the perfect solution.
The issue is how do you pay for it?
The Arizona Legislature continues to dip into Highway User Revenue Funds (HURF), which are meant to maintain and build local and county roads. The money for HURF comes from taxes on gasoline and fees for motor vehicle operation. Since 2009, the legislature has diverted $140.6 million of Yavapai County funds for state obligations.
If you want to know why local and county roads are not being repaired as fast as they should, that is a big reason. It’s also why few new roads are being built. Increases the gas tax or adding more fees to register a car will increase HURF monies, but if the state continues to raid it no reversible lanes will be built any time soon, especially on a project that could cost around $125 million.
Arizonans have long opposed toll roads, but the time is right to reconsider that position. There is a need, and it makes sense that the people paying for that need be the people who benefit from it most.
If you haven’t experienced a modern toll road you may be unaware of the advances in them. First, there are no more toll booths with long lines of cars waiting to pay. You also do not have to slow down. In fact, outside of the signs that tell you that you’re on a toll road and will pay, you hardly notice.
The type of public-private partnership that traffic officials mentioned as a possibility are currently succeeding along the Atlantic coast of this country. You get on a toll road and pass through checkpoints doing the same traveling speed. With a transponder in your car, a machine overhead automatically deducts money from your pre-funded account,
which is recharged monthly through your checking account.
For cars that do not have a transponder, cameras take photos of your license plate and a bill will be mailed to your home (which will include a processing fee of a few dollars).
Some of these toll roads are optional and run along existing highways. If you don’t want to pay, you can move along slowly in traffic and it won’t cost you a cent. If you’re willing to pay, you can zip past everyone stuck in traffic.
The best and quickest way to get two reversible lanes built on I-17 is to enter into a private-public partnership, and allow a private company to put up the front-end cash in exchange for allowing them to collect the profits from tolls for the first few decades of use. Any other funding source will
delay start of construction of this much-needed project.
One major reason most people object to toll roads is because they want nothing to do with the long waits at toll booths. Since there are no more toll booths, it is right that the people who travel on I-17 the most, and want to avoid being stuck for hours because of an accident, pay a couple of dollars a trip to help get the reversible lanes built as fast as possible.