Sitting at a dead stop on MoPac at 7:15 on a Thursday night -- trying to get your son to the doctor's office at Far West -- tends to focus your thoughts on Austin's traffic problems. Why does our traffic have to suck so bad? IH 35 is just a parking lot for hours each day. MoPac is just as bad in the morning and evenings. Even in the middle of the day, you don't know what you're going to get. Ditto with the bridges over Town Lake, and Ben White near William Cannon. And so on.
The truth is, our traffic doesn't have to suck so bad. There's a perfectly sensible solution: congestion pricing. Toll the road, but vary the charges by time of day. The idea is to discourage enough drivers that traffic will flow freely. If it takes a $3 dollar toll to get traffic moving from William Cannon to downtown in the mornings, then charge $3.
A congestion-priced toll raises revenue, but that's not the point. MoPac, for example, might be free 18 hours a day. A toll would be collected only during the peak, congestion-plagued commutes.
Here is the US DOT's summary of the benefits:
Congestion pricing benefits drivers and businesses by reducing delays and stress, by increasing the predictability of trip times, and by allowing for more deliveries per hour. It benefits mass transit by improving transit speeds and the reliability of transit service, increasing transit ridership, and lowering costs for transit providers. It benefits State and local governments by improving the quality of transportation services without tax increases or large capital expenditures, by providing additional revenues for funding transportation, by retaining businesses and expanding the tax base, and by shortening incident response times for emergency personnel and thus saving lives. By preventing the loss of vehicle throughput that results from a breakdown of traffic flow, pricing maximizes return on the public's investment in highway facilities. And it benefits society as a whole by reducing fuel consumption and vehicle emissions, by allowing more efficient land use decisions, by reducing housing market distortions, and by expanding opportunities for civic participation.
On one California highway, congestion-priced lanes carried twice as much traffic as the free lanes.
I haven't driven on SH 130, and doubt I will any time soon, but I think they've tolled the wrong road. Make SH 130 free, and congestion price the hell out of IH 35. Through traffic will take SH 130. Locals will carpool, or take mass transit, or travel off-peak, or just pay the toll. IH 35 won't look a parking lot 10 hours a day.
As it is now, the toll on SH 130 will encourage through traffic to take the overcongested IH 35 through the middle of Austin. We want SH 130 to be more enticing, not less.
I know TxDOT's got to pay for SH 130 with toll money. Why not use the money raised by congestion pricing IH 35? If the toll is high enough, there might even be enough money to demolish that hideous upper deck and still keep traffic moving.