Engineering a Failure
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports:
So far, rebuilding Highway 40 has involved ripping out roadway and demolishing and rebuilding bridges.
This morning, the paving begins.[…]
Paving should continue through October. Although reconstruction of the first phase is on target to finish by Dec. 31, a wet spring kept paving from starting sooner.
It’s nice to hear that the reconstruction of highway 40 is on schedule despite early setbacks because of the weather. However, I don’t think that the addition of a new lane in either direction will solve the congestion problem. Policymakers have framed the problem in a fundamentally flawed way: They see the congestion as an engineering problem only requiring a good design with enough money thrown into execution for a solution.
This is all wrong. Congestion is an economic problem at its very core. It surely is possible to completely solve the congestion problem with enough tax dollars and a decent design, but the question that must be asked is, is it worth it? The problem with Missouri’s current system of funding transportation projects road construction in particular is that there is no metric to determine whether a new road or an extra lane is actually worth the costs of construction and maintenance. Ideally, consumers would pay a premium for driving on highly congested roads and receive a discount for driving on relatively uncongested roads. This would help determine whether a new road is worthwhile and cut down congestion at the same time.
A very practical method of approaching this ideal is to use tolls as the primary method of financing road construction and maintenance. With a toll road, the metric for determining whether road construction is worthwhile is simple if the road turns a profit, it is worthwhile. In addition, reducing congestion (or, more accurately, setting the optimal level of congestion) is simply a matter of adjusting tolls to maximize each respective road’s profit. No public sector necessary, here.
See also David Stokes on toll roads.