‘Toll’erable remedy to traffic problem

Minnesota “nice” and clean air are two things for which the state is celebrated. But trying to drive across the metropolitan area on a typical day, traffic will soon leave you with another impression.

The state has approved one remedy to this problem: allowing non-carpoolers to use the carpool lane on Interstate Highway 394 – for a toll. This will also expand the highway’s capacity and generate revenue for buses and I-394. Minnesota should also consider expanding tolling to other roads as well. The income generated should be used to reduce congestion, but not just by building more lanes.

Study after study has proven that simply expanding highways does not work because traffic always increases to capacity. Minnesota must develop mass transit to reduce congestion. But how do we pay for this? Raising the gas tax is one solution. However, it has proven politically unpalatable to Minnesota’s current leaders. Another solution is using toll roads.

The tolls would not be like the archaic booths on the way to Chicago, but automatic tolls. A bill would be sent out after special bar codes are scanned, allowing for continual flow of traffic as well as reduced costs and pollution. The tolls placed on Minnesota’s busiest highways would also have increased rates during peak travel times. Of course, consideration would need to be made for areas with no realistic alternative commuter route and the disproportionate effects on low-income drivers.

When Minnesota was burning the last of its streetcars in the 1950s, it seemed Minnesotans could have their cars and drive them too. However, this decision favoring cars at the expense of mass transit has proven to be a big mistake. The Twin Cities are far behind other metropolitan areas in mass transit.

Whether it is raising gas taxes, enacting toll roads or some other method, Minnesota must make decisions with an eye to the distant future. The longer the state waits, the costlier implementing new mass transit will be. We need to act now or expect triple-decker highways to cast long shadows across Minnesota.