Congestion pricing in the Mountain West?

The debate on how to improve the traffic situation on I-70 from Denver into the mountains continues in the Senate Transportation Committee meeting room today as bills from opposite sides of the legislative aisle get consideration.

Although the two bills are sponsored by Sens. Chris Romer, D-Denver, and Andy McElhany, R-Colorado Springs, it is worth noting that they are both proposing road or congestion pricing for the I-70 corridor. They disagree on the details of how such a framework would operate and how revenues might be re-invested, but the foundation of their proposals seem to cross political ideology — use market forces to manage an increasingly scare resource (otherwise known as road capacity).

There may be a number of reasons these proposals are on the committee table now rather than after groups such as the I-70 Coalition have made their recommendations, but that’s a reality of the legislative process. Nevertheless, the combination of successful congestion pricing programs in London and Stockholm and the proposals for similar programs in New York City and San Francisco make the idea a powerful one that will likely become a part of the package for I-70 regardless of the outcome of the Romer and McElhany bills this year.

The reality of decreasing transportation funding from gas taxes, increasing construction costs, and limited geography is making congestion pricing an increasingly viable tool to manage traffic and congestion in communities and on highways.

As Gordon Price, transportation Planner and former City Councilor in Vancouver, has commented, “congestion turns out to be an inevitable consequence when the private sector produces and unlimited number of vehicles and expects the public sector to spend limited resources to build an unlimited amount of space for them to run on.”

Put another way, the age of “freeways” is drawing to a close in the Mountain West.


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