George Will

The congestion crisis requires joining an old material -- concrete -- with new technologies. Toll highways or lanes can do what restaurants and movie theaters do -- use differential pricing to draw traffic to off-peak hours. Peters cites I-15 in Southern California. It uses dynamic pricing, posting on electronic signs the continually varying cost of access to special lanes. Changing the price as often as every six minutes prevents congestion. Another California highway that uses prices posted on a printed schedule has increased traffic flow 40 percent.

When taxpayers pay the gas tax, they do not know what they are buying -- except ``bridges to nowhere'' and other pork. When drivers pay a toll they know exactly what they are getting -- life's most precious scarce thing, time.

Peters says there are large sources of private capital available for investments in transportation infrastructure. Indiana has leased its toll road to a private consortium that will have an incentive -- profit -- to use electronic toll collection rather than human collectors who slow traffic and sometimes cost twice as much as the tolls they collect.

Transportation innovations always have been prerequisites for America's growing prosperity. In 1815, the cost of moving goods 30 miles inland from an Atlantic port, over rutted roads that were impassable in wet weather, equaled the cost of moving the goods across the Atlantic. But soon America's first great transportation innovation, the Erie Canal, reduced the cost of shipping a ton of wheat from Buffalo to the port of New York from $100 to $10. Because of railroads and macadamized roads, the difference between the wholesale price of pork in Cincinnati and New York fell 90 percent.

Modernization of surface transportation infrastructure depends on Peters and like-minded visionaries convincing federal and state governments to abandon the inefficient dispensing of money by politically driven formulas and earmarks. New electronic technologies, harnessed to private capital and the profit motive, can nimbly use price incentives to produce new traffic patterns and driving habits, thereby increasing Americans' freedom to pursue happiness, speedily.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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