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Toll Lanes on the 405 Freeway

In: Business and Management

Submitted By jadescholz
Words 1607
Pages 7
Toll Lanes and the 405 Freeway

Introduction / Article Summary

For this paper, I chose an article that was recently published in the L.A. Times, written by Paloma Esquivel and Adolfo Flores. The article, titled, “Orange County, long a toll-road supporter, makes a U-turn over 405 plan,” discussed the response by local residents and business owners concerning the addition of a section of toll lanes to the 405 freeway, in an effort to decrease congestion. I chose this article for two reasons, the first of which is that the article seemed to address the tradeoffs not only between two of the three sides of the Good Society triangle, but actually covered all three. Secondly, I chose the article because the tradeoffs seemed especially vivid, as well as personally relevant to me because of my near daily use of the toll lane network currently spanning Orange County.
The article discusses the differing responses to the proposed addition to the Orange County toll lane network, including that of residents, city officials, and small business owners. Residents of the area expressed outright concern and negativity toward the project, citing the expense of using the toll roads, dubbed “Lexus Lanes” daily. Additionally, many residents felt that they had paid the price already for better roads, in the form of a tax increase approved by voters, earmarked for adding an additional lane to the 405 freeway. Residents complained that by adding lanes that would also have a per-use cost, they would be “double paying” for the road. Small business owners expressed concern that the addition of toll lanes that stretch for miles without an exit or entrance would negatively impact the region’s industry, since travelers of these lanes would no longer exit the freeway at these locations for fuel, shopping and dining. Some commuters expressed a desire to see the plan come to life, expressing an interest in having a shorter daily commute time.
Lastly, many residents have expressed concern about approving even more lanes which require payment, feeling that it is setting a poor example and precedent for the future. If toll lanes are continually added to roads, the day will come where every highway has a toll-based option. This would make the daily commute cost prohibitive to all but the very wealthy, leaving the middle and lower classes to remain relegated to the congested “free lanes”. Residents are concerned not only for the immediate economic impact this trend would have on household budgets, but also for those of their children and grandchildren in future generations. Tradeoffs: Business / Moral & Cultural

One of the major tradeoffs between the business and cultural segments was expressed outright in the article. Local businesses fear that the addition of exit-free toll lanes along the 405 would negatively impact the region’s economy, fearing a reduction in purchases of food, fuel, and other items by daily commuters. While businesses existing along exits inside the proposed toll lane zone would likely suffer, businesses that currently lie immediately before or after the toll lane zones would likely see an upturn in business. This will likely be due to commuter’s realizations that they need food or fuel, and that they will be unable to exit for some time to purchase these things, leading them to exit just before or after the toll road section. These revenue fluctuations (upwards for some businesses and downwards for others) will likely result in some shifting in the number of jobs offered by these businesses, and will impact those who are either hired or fired as a result of the toll road construction.
Another business segment to consider is the construction industries responsible for road engineering, construction, and management in Orange County. The realization of this toll road plan could, ultimately, serve to add several jobs for Orange County citizens. Not only would a dearth of workers be needed to plan, engineer, and construct the lanes, but also permanent workers would be needed to separately maintain them and operate toll booths. Another factor to consider is time. Adding the toll lanes to the 405 would reduce the commute time for many Orange County residents, allowing more time for family, religion, social and community activities. If people spend less time on the roads, they are able to spend more time doing things that matter. (This ties in to an idea that I have held for years, regarding toll-lane waivers in exchange for community service performed with the time saved, but I digress). Shorter commute times may also have another impact not only for families but for businesses as well. Many commuters are rushing home every day to pick their children up from daycare, which typically charges fees for late pickups and occasionally charges by the hour. If commuters are able to reach the child care centers earlier than they previously could, the daycares in the county could see revenue reductions, owing to earlier pickups and later drop-offs.

Tradeoffs: Government / Moral & Cultural

Many of the tradeoffs that I have identified as Business vs. Moral & Cultural also apply to the Government vs. Moral & Cultural section, in addition to a few others. If the Orange County government elects to go ahead with the plan as proposed, and constructs toll lanes along the 405, this may result in a great deal of disenchantment by local residents, owing to the opinion that the public has already “bought and paid for” road improvements to the 405, which residents believe should be of equal access to everyone. Another tradeoff to consider was mentioned briefly in the article. Orange County highway authorities have recently come under fire from federal programs, due to the condition and overall speed of the county’s HOV lanes. County officials have been instructed to take steps to improve the speed and quality of the carpool lanes, or risk losing federal funding for the carpool lane program. If the county succeeds in improving the quality and speed of these lanes, it could increase the number of users willing to carpool daily, therefore reducing emissions and saving time for travelers. On the other hand, if the county fails to achieve the needed goals and loses federal funding for the carpool lane program, county residents will likely be forced to pay the price by way of poor quality carpool lanes, and increased tax proposals to compensate for the funding deficit. Another tradeoff that I thought merited a mention is air quality in the region. It’s difficult to see where the lines are drawn on this issue, and I feel that both options have the potential to impact air quality surround the region, which impacts quality of life in the area, as well as property values and residents’ willingness to remain near the freeway. Idling cars as a result of traffic jams are a cause of immense amounts of air pollution, and the addition of toll lanes could serve to alleviate some of the congestion in trouble areas of the 405 and thus reducing the amount of air pollution suffered by this particular area. On the other hand, however, if the 405 were to become an easier, faster, more viable option for people making non-regular trips through the county, the road could see more traffic, and as a result, more pollution. Finally, if the toll lanes project is approved and commuters increasingly elect to use surface street alternatives over freeways, the neighborhoods in the region could suffer from reduced air quality as well.

Tradeoffs: Government / Business One of the major tradeoffs between business and government regarding the construction of the proposed toll lanes on the 405 is revenue. When consumers choose to use the toll lanes, they add to the government’s revenue. At the same time, they are taking away from business revenue by not stopping at the businesses located inside the toll zone. On the other hand, the opposite could be said as well. Rather than choosing between paying to travel on the toll lanes, or to sit in hours of congested traffic on the “free” portion of the 405, commuters may invent their own “Option C”. I, myself, am guilty of choosing this option fairly frequently on my commute down the 91. When the tolls are especially high and the traffic in regular lanes is especially thick, often I will choose to leave the freeway and make my way by surface streets. This would not only take away revenue from the local government, but add revenues to small businesses. One thing to consider, however, is the wear and tear to the roads as a result of increased daily traffic, and the increased incidence of accidents along these surface streets caused by weary commuters unwilling to pay for their drive home, requiring additional police, ambulance, fire, and other public services.

Conclusion

I chose this article because I felt like it portrayed both the pro- and anti-toll road points of view very well. Additionally, I felt like it covered many of the potential benefits and drawbacks for a number of sectors of government, business, and the general public. The construction (or non-construction) of these lanes will impact government revenue, business revenue, business competition, individual finances, taxation (both revenue and expense), quality of life standards, environmental concerns, and more. I feel that there are significant gains to be realized from construction of these toll roads, especially from personal quality of life standpoints, but I am also able to sympathize with those who oppose the measure for personal or economic reasons. Works Cited

Esquivel, Paloma and Flores, Adolfo. “Orange County, long a toll-road supporter, makes U-turn over 405 plan.” LA Times. 20 November 2013.…...

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