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Road user fees discussion continues

In early November, the Amsterdam-based GPS producer TomTom released its 2013 ‘Travel Index’ ranking Vancouver as the most congested city in North America—more congested than Los Angeles, Toronto, and New York, ranked respectively at 2nd, 7th and 9th on TomTom’s ‘top ten’ list. Few commuters stuck in the various well-known choke points in Vancouver —on ramps to the various bridges, for example, or on downtown arteries in rush hour —would dispute this. But, at the same time, those who have also driven in the other above-mentioned cities might still question this distinction. TomTom says congestion is getting worse in Vancouver, but, on balance, it doesn’t feel like it. Over the last decade the road and public transit infrastructure improvements made throughout the lower mainland, the BC interior, and the Vancouver to Whistler corridor have made a difference. And they indicate awareness on the part of our legislators, transportation policy experts and planners that infrastructure matters, needs attention and requires ongoing funding. Agreement on securing this funding and allocating it to the various projects is an ongoing challenge and big part of the transportation debate.

South of the border transportation experts are also aware … and worried. Writing in the latest Eno Centre for Transportation newsletter, Roger Dow, the President and CEO of the US Travel Association forecasts that:

“Without significant investments to improve the performance of the National Highway System or provide alternative modes of transportation like high-speed rail, American highways will be as congested on a typical day as they are on Labor Day. For example, Labor Day congestion will be the reality on I-95 between Palm Beach and Melbourne, Fla., as soon as 2020, and between New York and Washington, DC, as soon as 2024.

For the country that built the transcontinental railroad, federal highway system and once boasted an aviation system that was the envy for the world, this is simply unacceptable.

As recently as 10 years ago, Republicans and Democrats worked together to invest in America’s transportation infrastructure. Congressional leaders made high-performing infrastructure a priority to meet demand and grow our economy.

But times have changed. Referring to transportation funding, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, (D-W.Va.), said it best earlier this year: ‘We in Congress have simply not done our jobs when it comes to investing for the future.’”

Mr. Dow goes on to say that the situation has now “grown so dire,” and the problem of solving it so complex, that it is too expansive for any one state to resolve on its own, too expensive for any one company to fund and too important for any elected representative to relinquish their role. He says the time has come to consider user fees as part of the solution, a reversal of the traditional position taken by the transportation industry. He concludes by exhorting the federal government to “get back in the game and jump-start investments in transportation solutions.”

Road users in both Canada and the US don’t like the prospect of road user fees but discussion of this ‘solution’ isn’t about to end any time soon. Quite the contrary. 

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