The Toll Road and “Managed Lane” Hollow Promise

In 1992, a well known toller, Robert W. Poole, Jr., of the Reason Foundation, stated:

“Congestion pricing—charging a price to use highways that is high at peak hours and low at off-peak times—holds great potential for easing traffic congestion and reducing auto emissions in Southern California.”

Today, reality sets in with $8.50 “value priced” toll lanes during rush hour on SR 91 in Southern California (see actual photo of SR 91 during rush hour above). Note the untolled lanes are a dangerous congested nightmare, and even those who pay, must slow down and join the congestion to exit off the highway.

Did the toll roads, managed lanes or value pricing ease traffic congestion?

So when Sen. Kirk Watson, Rep. Mike Krusee, TxDOT or other tollers try sell us to toll roads we’ve already paid for, think about that photo. This photo is what it will be like with managed lanes on Loop 1 (MoPAC) in Austin and other freeways in Texas.

In an effort to deceive the public, slick politico’s like Watson say we need “managed lanes” to solve our problems. Managed lanes are a marketing term to sell us toll lanes - without using the “T” word!

These comments are from California citizens who have to live with what the politicians sold them, a promise that tolls, managed lanes and value pricing would reduce traffic congestion:
“These lanes were built w/taxpayer money. Should have never been toll road. We are being held hostage by OC and Caltrans. Why aren't our Riverside County reps standing up for us?”

“They are making almost a million dollars every week, and still cannot do anything to relieve the congestion on the 91. Even the yellow "cones" along the FasTrak lanes are old and often times missing. Where is all the money going?”

“"Congestion-pricing" is French for fleecing consumers. Oct.'s plan is about making money, not reducing congestion.”

“When the Orange County Transportation Authority announced they were going to purchase the toll lanes, they said that the prices were going to drop not go up. Once again, the government lies to get what they want.”

“The obscene amount of tax dollars that are TAKEN from us everyday should be more than enough to create and maintain any of these new roads.”


“They spent a lot of taxpayer's money...they promised reductions in traffic congestion while staying "revenue neutral". About six months later a study showed a drop in traffic of only 0.06 percent, a paltry amount, as compared to an increase in revenue of a whopping 26.0 percent. This kind of double-speak and corruption will continue as long as we, the people, allow it. THROW THE RASCALS OUT!!!”

“Anyone notice all the people who cut into the lanes after the toll plaza. How dangerous is that?”

“Pricing on the 91 Toll Lanes is INSANE! I understand that sometimes it's just as congested as the non-tollroads during rush (hour), but the raise is just too much. I think the price of $8 is too much.”
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Sal Costello said...

Peter Samuel of TollRoadsNews.com wrote:


I agree with you 'managed lanes' is a euphemism and I try to call them toll lanes in all my writing. Toll lanes should NOT be sold as a solution to congestion.

However your blanket attack on toll lanes is wrong. Even though they are not a solution to congestion toll lanes can help take the edge off it by offering people an option they don't otherwise have - the option to avoid congestion by paying a toll on the occasions when a quick trip is especially important - to get by the congestion. It's like having FedEx for when the USPS is just too slow.

By taking a few cars out of the free lanes they may slightly alleviate congestion but they won't solve it. Truth be told there is no solution to congestion without more widespread pricing (tolls). That is because (1) rail transit doesn't offer competitive convenience (2) gas taxes yield about 3c/mile/trip about a tenth of the cost of providing extra pavement in urban areas. Once high tolls in peak hours (value pricing, congestion pricing, the sales names don't matter) will finance extra capacity.

The tolls of up to 85c a mile are good in that they indicate the strong need for extra capacity and the potential for a toll tunnel somewhat to the south. They will help get that built in a way that is impossible without tolls and the market.

Peter Samuel



I don't recall the FEDEX corporate subsidy of stealing roads we've already paid for.

Expressway ROW is a rare commodity, privitizing and tolling limited tax funded ROW created costly monoplies. Tolling tax funded roads and ROW, claiming congestion relief and low prices and delivering the opposite will be the end of all tolls - some day.


Anonymous said...

My guess is Peter Samuel is on somebodys payroll. I don't see how you could be such a tool of privatization without taking money from someone.

Richard Reeves said...


Great find on SR-91!

One of the key arguments in favor of these "managed lane(s)" schemes is that the toll revenues will be used to fund other capacity. The managed lanes on SR-91 were reportedly opened in late 1995.
I personally can not find one shred of evidence that ANY capacity has been added either on SR-91 or alternates nearby.

Just how long will Californians have to wait for their toll taxes to start bearing the promised congestion relieving fruit?! SR-91 lanes are now evidently going into more than 11 years of operation!

Managed lanes create bureaucracies, whether government run or "Private" that will actively work to lobby against and thwart what they view as "competing projects". Human nature being what it is, they will on most occasions fight to keep and generate the maximum amount of revenue possible on their managed lanes. Their business is based on congestion, to them the more the merrier!

Their line of thinking is more along the lines of "damn, what can we do to shut down those pesky "free" lanes!"

The managed lane "solution" to congestion is about like the "luxury" of getting to smoke a cigarette just before getting gunned down in front of a firing squad.

Richard Reeves

Sal Costello said...


Hi Sal,

A couple of points:

1) When I head north weekday mornings the traffic heading south is backed up from about Enfield, and by the time you get to the tolled section it is bumper-to-bumper stop-n-go traffic for 3 miles. They are paying to drive toll roads that did not solve the problem. In fact might have exasperated it.

2) Driving on the brand new toll roads, I noticed that every night they are sweeping the roads. The roads are still pretty clean, but they are sweeping them. On the other hand, IH-35 has pieces of tires, dead animals, sand, and rocks, and is being neglected. This is what happens with toll roads.

3) Toll roads tend to block any cross traffic. Once a toll road is in place, ownership and rights to cross over or under it, are difficult at best. So you end up driving further.

4) Toll roads tend to get you to the bottlenecks faster, exasperating the bottlenecks. They do nothing for the existing bottlenecks. In fact they take up so much space they likely make them worse.

5) The biggest problem going into town in the morning is not caused by the lights in Oak Hill, even though they are a nuisance. The biggest problem is caused by the pinch at Enfield where northbound traffic is pinched down to two lanes. As soon as you pass that bottleneck, traffic free-flows.

Ooops, am I singing to the choir?


Sriram said...


The problem with your hypothesis is that rarely, if ever, does the excess toll revenue go to creating new capacity. This can be because:

1) Politicians being politicians, they find a way to divert a portion of the revenue to non-transportation items (granted not a fault of the toll road directly);
2) If the toll road is privately run, the concession agreement frequently includes a non-compete clause that prohibits the extra capacity you refer to, because the clause typically forbids ANY improvements to the facility itself or nearby facilities that could reduce toll revenues on the tolled section. This happened on the 91 Express Lanes, where the private investor refused to allow Caltrans to expand the adjacent free lanes, resulting in a $200+ million taxpayer financed buyout of the facility;
3) Even without a non-compete agreement, in areas where congestion is heavy enough to generate excess cash (usually heavily urbanized areas), ROW is impossible to get because it's either too expensive, or too politically unfeasible to acquire without starting a riot from a neighborhood association.

Plus, is it really fair that the "option" you refer to is so expensive ($17 a day/$85 a week) as to preclude a large segment of the driving public from being able to benefit?

David Rogers said...

TOLLROADSnews is a journalistic venture of Peter Samuel, 102 West Third Street Unit 1, Frederick MD 21701 USA tel 301 631 1148 email editor@tollroadsnews.com.

David Rogers said...

So, yeah, Peter Samual is a paid shill for toll roads. (check out his advertisers -- a long list of toll profiteers.)

But he might really believe in tolls. Being a shill often (but not always) involves getting paid to say what you believe anyway (see, e.g., Tony Snow).