For Whom the Toll Calls

By: Mr. Wilson on December 17, 2009
After my trip out to Boulder to watch the Huskers take on the Buffs back in November, I got to thinking about which roads in Nebraska would do well as toll roads. (A toll road outside Denver got the topic rolling in my mind.) Two candidates I came up with were Lincoln's mythical South and East Beltways. Coincidentally, not long after that The Platte Institute made some noise on that very topic. My gut suggests that Nebraskans generally don't like the idea of toll roads. I don't see why not. I think it has something to do with taxpayers' collective delusion that roads ought to be "free". But roads most certainly are not free -- just like health care isn't "free" in any country in the world. Toll roads charge the users of a road for the construction and maintenance of that road. A gas tax, in contrast, disproportionately affects drivers of low-mileage vehicles and drivers who primarily stay within city limits (because of lower fuel economy in city driving). Each type of tax makes sense in particular contexts. I wonder what you Lincolnites generally think about the concept of toll roads. Could a toll road work in Lincoln? What would it take for you to buy in to the idea? Edited to add: If you're curious about traffic volumes in Lincoln, check out this map (PDF) and this list of other traffic volume data.


See what your friends and neighbors have to say about this.

December 17, 2009 at 3:53PM

I kind of have been an advocate for a long time of the idea of toll roads, but I’d take it from a different perspective.

I-80 is one of the main East/West corridors in the country. In a perfect world, I’d capitalize on that, and try to turn part of that into tollway.

I would consider 3 toll points: one just west of Lincoln, one between Lincoln and Omaha, and one just inside the Iowa border between Omaha and Council Bluffs. This would hit people driving through our fair state 3 times. It would also hit the people that commute from Lincoln to Omaha, but it would only hit them once. Somebody that makes that commute daily puts more wear on that road than the folks that work in either city, so it’s okay to have them pay their fair share. And I don’t think hitting passers-through for 3 little dings would keep people from using I-80.

Now, realistically, it would be hard to make that work, but that would be a better revenue producer than any Lincoln or Omaha beltways, and it really puts some of the burden for roads on the people that are using them.

December 17, 2009 at 5:03PM

If tolls would fund the east/south beltways and get them moving forward, I say let’s start yesterday.

December 17, 2009 at 7:49PM

As far as I know, the only interstates that charge tolls are those that were in operation as toll roads at the inception of the interstate highway system.  Otherwise, they’re all free.  (Unless the state decided to pass on federal highway dollars?)

Now… if Nebraska and Iowa got together and build an Omaha by-pass toll road, connecting to I-80 east and west of Omaha, that might work for those not planning on stopping in Omaha.

December 17, 2009 at 9:12PM

I agree - I think partly because you’d have to retrofit a road to turn it into a tollway - like killing off the exits so people can’t just go around. Like I said, in a perfect world, that would be the stretch of road - I think it gets the most use and would generate the most bucks.

Someday, maybe under President Fletcher.

December 18, 2009 at 12:05PM

I think people in Nebraska are reluctant to support them because they don’t really have much experience with them. They see them as an annoyance, which they are, unless you have something like an EZ Pass like they have in Jersey. I can’t imagine adding a bunch of toll booths to game day traffic.

December 18, 2009 at 2:46PM

There have been highways that have been retrofitted for a toll road. It doesn’t take much work, just adding a small booth to each exit and entrance. In Maine, they don’t even hire attendants, there is a bill slot, and a change basket.

I propose three stretches of highway.

1.  I-80 from Omaha to the Seward-York vicinity.
2.  Highway 2 from Nebraska City to Lincoln (that one would take MUCH more work)
3.  That three miles stretch if I-76 in Nebraska. Sure it’s only three miles…and kinda a jerk thing to do… but what the hey people need to get to Denver somehow!

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