California’s Economic Engine - Freeways
Published in the Los Angeles Times, February 15, 2007

Toll roads will never carry their fair share of traffic because freeways surround them. Orange County’s SR 73 tollway remains empty and bankrupt while cars pile onto the San Diego and Santa Ana Freeways. Meanwhile, non-compete clauses limit government expansion of roads and exacerbate congestion.

California’s conundrum? Projects estimated at $11.3 billion compete for $4.5 billion of the first set aside from November’s Proposition 1B. We must do what Eisenhower did in 1956 in establishing the 41,000 mile interstate highway system – utilize standard financing techniques with general obligation bonds and federal-state partnerships. Public investment in transit and railway systems should also become a priority.

Privately financed toll roads provide state and local politicians with up-front money to make themselves look good, but captive commuters will be paying tolls for generations to largely foreign landlords. The public-private partnerships utilize tax-exempt financing and government loan guarantees – and merely outsource difficult decisions that strike fear in our politicians – like raising gas taxes. Let’s not sell off our economic engine, the freeway, for a little upfront money for special interest perks and to hide budget deficits. Our leaders must make the hard public infrastructure choices, backed by the public treasury, and not leave them to the whim of foreign stockholders.

Jack Eidt
Director of Planning
Wild Heritage Planners