You take the high road and….

When I first heard about libertarianism, back when I was in school, the example of the philosophy in practice was private roads. I thought that was aburd then — still do — and only after reading blogs and Reason did I see more sense in the essence of libertarianism, in the effort to preserve individual liberties.

But now the private road gambit is becoming real — not out of political philosophy but out of government incompetence. From Gannett New Jersey:

New Jersey could make $30 billion — enough to cover the entire state budget and still have $1.7 billion left over — by selling the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway, according to a report by Merrill Lynch.

The report said private companies’ interest in buying U.S. toll roads is increasing and cited New Jersey and New York as two states where toll roads have great potential for privatization because of their established roads and budget woes.

They should be doing just the opposite: Tear down the toll booths and fire the bureaucracies fed by them. I’ve long marveled how the Interstates by me operate with much less visible infrastructure — staff, facilities, equipment, expense — than the toll roads. Tolls roads cause tremendous inconvenience. And they tempt government — and now private enterprise — to try — though often unsuccessfully — to turn the public infrastructure into a profit center.

  • Who, then, should maintain the roads, and how should it be paid for?

    I remember when the Masspike got rid of its tollbooths in western Massachusetts. I can’t think of anybody who was unhappy with the idea; mainly people waiting for the rest of them in Boston to be shut down as well and the whole thing to go “Free.”

    But the fact remains that it’s a road, and people travel on it, and it will need occasional maintenance. How do you pay for that? Charge everyone taxes?

    As much as I hate the idea of toll roads, it seems much more fair to have the people using the road pay for it, instead of the people who aren’t using it.

  • Hey Jeff,

    What is wrong with “profit”?

    You are displaying your economic illiteracy here.

    Profits are what drive jobs, innovation, incomes, rising standards of living, and generate the tax revenue. To be anti-profit is to be clueless as to what creates the prosperity you enjoy.

    The reason we need toll roads is because government has shown an inability to manage the highways via indirect taxation.

    Furthermore, the people that use the road should pay for its upkeep.

  • zhulick

    judging from your statements, i can only assume that you don’t live in the NJ/NY area…

    the turnpike and the garden state are probably the only nice fast roads in the area… the tolls are not that bad for an average commuter (i traveled to work on the pike for 5 years and paid about $2 each way), and the roads are always well maintained…

    compare that to the rest of the highways in the area, and their nightmare state of traffic and potholes that can swallow you whole, not to mention the outrageous cost of bridges and tunnels, and i’d say keep my $2 and let me ride in peace…

  • Roads are public infrastructure and, yes, they should be supported by all, like the police and schools and other essential services of a society. Now, I know we can argue about why, then, water, electricity, and, yes, internet access should not fall under the same rule — and, yes, we could argue. But roads are used by all for the benefit of all and because they are built via eminent domain and are the property of the people then, yes, I think they should be supported by taxes.
    I’m all for profit… but not from public property.
    And, yes, I do live in NJ and those two roads are nightmares. I’ll take my free and clear Interstates any day. In fact, I take them every day.

  • Lynn

    I don’t travel those toll roads often, but when I do I dread each approach to those confusing lanes of toll booths, scanning for the cash lanes and the amount needed then digging it out, while not getting slammed by those coming in for a landing at the EZ Passes.

    What a waste of brakes and gas.

    Each year we delay getting rid of the tolls, we accrue responsibility for the retirements of more toll collectors, each of whom will be collecting benefits for many decades to come.

    Routes 78 and 80 are a pleasure. Put the turnpike and GS on the same system.

  • Pete

    I grew up in NJ and worked for a legislator for several years before leaving NJ for the lower tax state to the west (PA). Jeff is absolutely in saying that the main problem is the tolls. Nobody remembers that the tolls were meant to pay off the public works associated with constructing both roads in the first place. I think most people would be surprised to learn that the majority of toll revenues goes to supporting the high wages of toll collectors and the beauracracy that controls them. I recall that when I worked for the state, there was a 10 year waiting list to be hired as a toll collector because of the enormous benefits package and the high wages for sitting in a booth all day collecting change, and that at least one local politician had given up his elected position because working as a toll collector was a higher paying job.

    All I can say is thank God I don’t live in that state anymore.