Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2007 | At its Jan. 19 meeting, SANDAG’s Transportation Committee fiddled with I-15 toll managed lanes toll rates. But they didn’t deal with the burning question of why tolls are necessary in the first place. Nor why after spending $60 billion by 2030 road congestion isn’t eliminated. SANDAG has ignored the clear evidence that the I-15 installation reduces freeway total flow, and increases congestion instead of relieving it as the 2004 sales tax extension promised. While tolls have declined 40 percent, vehicle flow has actually increased since the 2003 congested conditions. CalTrans measured rush period delay has increased from over 800 hours to zero. Speed increased from 20 mph to freeflow 67. The reason: Two non-toll lanes, much preferred by motorists, have been added. The toll managed lanes only carry 50 percent of capacity. Why in heaven’s name are tolls still being charged on a freeway already paid for? Why waste $1.2 million yearly administration cost for no mobility gain? Does it help congestion to use tolls to fund bus line 860 which carries 177 people during daily rush periods while the freeway carries about 33,000? The ignored lesson for the future is this installation never did help, even when demand was greater than capacity. Both the toll lanes and regular lanes could carry about 30 percent more if, like other San Diego freeways, they were allowed to operate at freeflow. About 20 percent more total people would be carried. What happened to SANDAG’s boast to carry people, not just vehicles? The only public explanation is the toll lanes themselves carry more people, while the deficient total is never mentioned.

Why is this the “successful” model for the current plan to spend at least $8 billion for toll managed lanes, while as the meeting also heard, there could still be at least 46 miles of heavily congested freeways by 2030? Even then emotional pleas occurred for even more mass transit, already wisely rejected by SANDAG’s staff as not cost effective. Transit’s nearly 40 percent share of funds is the underlying reason for out of control congestion in the first place.

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