Showing posts with label #Highway37. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Highway37. Show all posts

Monday, May 22, 2023

Balancing Equity and Efficiency: The Case for Congestion Pricing on Highway 37.

 "Road Pricing in Singapore."
© 2007 VK35.
Highway 37 is once again making headlines. A recent article by Susan Wood for The North Bay Business Journal announced that the California Transportation Commission has endorsed a Metropolitan Transportation Commission proposal to institute a toll on State Route 37. The exact toll figure is yet to be established, but it's expected to reflect the $7 charge for San Francisco Bay Area bridges, projected to rise to $8 by 2025. The toll approval includes two amendments, namely regional income-based discounts and revised guidelines for toll hearings. The projected toll's purpose is to help fund the $430 million expansion of the highway, currently carrying over 35,000 vehicles per day, predominantly from Solano County and the City of Vallejo.

The toll implementation on Highway 37 should consider the integration of a congestion pricing system, where fees vary based on traffic volume. This approach addresses several critical policy principles. Higher charges during busy hours promote vertical equity, as those choosing to drive at such times are often more financially able. It might also enhance efficiency by discouraging traffic during peak times, facilitating more effective highway use. Despite being more intricate than a single flat toll, current technology can simplify comprehension and compliance with variable pricing. Revenue sufficiency might be amplified by earning more during peak periods, contributing to highway upgrades. Congestion pricing might spur economic growth by reducing traffic and rendering the highway more attractive to businesses and commuters. It may also be more politically acceptable than a flat toll, as it provides drivers the option to evade higher costs by traveling during quieter periods. This approach's potential improvements in efficiency and equity might enhance the overall effectiveness of the toll policy. Hence, the adoption of congestion pricing for Highway 37 could better align with the tenets of an effective and fair policy, optimize the highway's efficiency, and secure the required revenue for its upgrades.

In contrast, a flat toll without supplemental congestion pricing has inherent shortcomings. While it exhibits horizontal equity by holding all drivers equally responsible, it lacks vertical equity as it is uniformly applied regardless of income. Public acceptability varies, with some considering it essential and others protesting the increased commuting cost. The toll is intended to cover a substantial portion of the $430 million needed for road enhancements, but a $250 million funding shortfall suggests potential insufficiency. Without price signals to enhance roadway efficiency or encouragement for better usage, a flat toll may prove deficient in areas like vertical equity and revenue sufficiency. Consequently, it could be less politically viable.

Monday, May 8, 2023

The Overlooked Impact of Highway 37 Improvements on the Napa River Bridge.

Susan Wood's article last Friday in The North Bay Business Journal describes how Highway 37, on the northern edge of San Francisco (San Pablo) Bay, is planned for improvements to address traffic congestion and flooding issues. A proposed $7 toll aims to fund the $430 million project for widening the 21-mile road between Marin and Solano counties. However, the added toll has sparked some complaints from commuters.

Introducing a toll on Highway 37 will potentially lead to increased use of Highway 12 to Highway 29, particularly the untolled Napa River Bridge (George F. Butler Memorial Bridge). While imposing a toll on Highway 37 would help address congestion issues and generate revenue for road maintenance, what will prevent traffic from shifting to the alternate route, creating new challenges, as discussed previously?

If the use of the Napa River Bridge rises significantly due to the Highway 37 toll, the straightforward answer would be to consider implementing a similar toll system on the untolled alternative. Yet, local traffic in Napa Valley is far less likely to accept pricing for the Napa River Bridge compared to Highway 37 commuters crossing a 10-mile causeway. There seems to be a lack of recognition of how these routes together affect North Bay transportation planning in general.

The initial Highway 37 project is scheduled from 2025 to 2027, so work could begin in as little as 18 months. This phase will include adding an electronic toll station, a bus service, and a low-income discount program. However, it is important to note that the proposed traffic mitigation, bus transport, does not address issues in either Sonoma Valley or Napa Valley for traffic between the two regions. If the project is to prove successful, it is likely that at a minimum, installation of toll infrastructure at the Napa River Bridge should be included, even if it is not activated at the same time as tolls on Highway 37 -- and which leads, via an oblique angle, to the general issue of congestion pricing in the North Bay ...