I’m intrigued by (Oregon) Governor Kulongoski’s speech last Friday on transportation and global warming. It’s not many politicians who are brave enough to consider peak-hour tolls, which are also known as congestion pricing.
London and Stockholm have found that these reduce rush-hour traffic by about 20%, which is huge in the transportation context. The tolls were highly unpopular at first, but became more accepted as people found themselves spending less time stuck in congestion.
I agree that peak-hour tolls are the right thing to do. Why? My personal willingness to pay them stems from my deep concern about global warming. In terms of fiscal policy, we sorely need pricing signals that reflect real costs of services. Oregon’s gas tax has not risen since 1993. But inflation has progressed so that our gas tax is now only covering 27 cents on the dollar of our actual road transportation costs. Most of our highways were constructed to last for 50 years — and were built about 50 years ago.
That means that Oregon is going further in the hole financially with every mile driven and gallon of gas consumed. And our atmosphere is going further in the hole at the same time, since every gallon of gas we burn creates 20 pounds of carbon dioxide, which is the primary source of global warming.
The Governor’s Climate Change Integration Act named ambitious goals in reducing global warming emissions, while being noncommittal about methods of reaching the goals. His specific idea of requiring drivers to pay part of the real cost of driving via a peak-hour tolling system would reduce vehicle miles traveled, and help Oregon reach those goals.