Study: Toll Roads Divert Traffic, Increase Accidents

Study finds that toll roads would divert truck traffic to secondary roads, increasing congestion and accidents.


Peter Swan and Michael BelzerA new study questions federal efforts to promote the use of toll roads throughout the country by documenting certain negative side effects tolls have on secondary road networks. Researchers Peter Swan of Penn State University and Michael Belzer of Wayne State University presented their findings Monday to the Transportation Research Board annual meeting in Washington, DC.

"If private operators -- or public operators for that matter -- set toll rates to maximize profit where congestion is not a significant problem, they can introduce substantial inefficiencies in the overall road transportation network and actually increase congestion and safety hazards in other parts of the system that they do not own and control," Swan and Belzer wrote. "These inefficiencies, the cost of which are borne by the public and not by the private toll road owner who is focused on profit for his particular part of the network, can only exist when private operators control particular strategically located roads through a purchase or long-term lease."

The researchers analyzed decades of data from the Ohio Turnpike and nearby alternate routes in Ohio, comparing both to national data to determine the effects the toll rates had on nearby free roads. Ohio raised toll rates in the 1990s and subsequently lowered them, allowing an easier calculation of the effect of different rate levels. The study showed that as the Turnpike toll increased, truck traffic increased on alternate, free routes as truckers balanced the monetary savings with the cost of the extra time needed to take an indirect route.

Swan and Belzer's economic modeling showed that the Turnpike could maximize its revenue by setting a truck toll rate of 46 cents per mile and collecting $111 from each truck driving the length of the Turnpike. At this high rate, however, the number of trucks avoiding the toll road would quadruple and place 608 million vehicle miles of added traffic and wear on secondary roads.

Read the rest of the story and find a PDF of the study HERE.

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