To save its infrastructure, America needs more toll roads

The sun shines on the Los Angeles freeway. Image: Getty.

In today’s America, we have come to take for granted the sad state of the national transportation infrastructure. The American Society of Civil Engineer’s 2017 report card gave the nation a D+ grade on its roads, bridges, and ports.

There was a time when a D+ was not acceptable. There was also a time in the US when A+ was the standard. Now failing is the standard. This D+ rating left the news cycle faster than an average commuter gets home on our overly congested highways.

As I write this piece, I’m sitting stalled on Amtrak headed from Washington, DC to New York’s Penn Station due to a derailment in Penn Station. As a Nevada Department of Transportation board member and long time transportation advocate, I am all too familiar with this experience and storyline.

We all know that America’s infrastructure is crumbling and congestion is at an all-time high. Americans have been forced to just accept long commutes and spending less time at home with their families.

It is also simply accepted that the deterioration of our nation’s surface transportation infrastructure is due in large part to the fact that our Congressional leaders no longer have a vision for the infrastructure that moves our $18.5trn economy and over 321m Americans. In the 1950s, President Eisenhower had the courage to force Congress to invest and begin building the Interstate Highway System we have today. Unfortunately, today’s congressional leaders would rather stop progress than make progress, and Americans go on suffering. 

But there is hope. Many regions are passing their own transportation referenda to fund transportation investments and improvements. Voters approved more than $200bn in transportation ballot initiatives this past November, and many regions are increasing the use of toll lanes and roads to reduce congestion to pay for infrastructure.  

Yet, this is not enough. Fuel revenues are decreasing due to the increased investments of electric and hybrid vehicles, and overall higher fuel efficiencies in today’s vehicles. If governments does not routinely raise fuel taxes and/or index them to inflation, and if some mechanism is not implemented to capture the increased number of electric and hybrid vehicles road usage, then America’s infrastructure will continue to deteriorate.

One way forward is the increased usage of toll roads. As we move to a transportation system that will include electric and hydrogen-fueled vehicles, and connected or autonomous vehicles, we clearly have the means to ensure all road users can help directly fund the roads they use every day – not just the ones that burn lots of gas.


Americans clearly see the need for investments in greater mobility to help our economy grow. Take, for example, the recent passage of Measure M in Los Angeles. LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and LA Metro CEO Phil Washington courageously made sure the ballot measure passed with over 71 percent of approval by Angelenos.

Why? Angelenos are fed up with congestion and lack of Congressional leadership. Measure M is the first ever transportation initiative with no sunset provision, creating an endless funding stream for LA Metro to invest in transit, local streets and roads, bridges, buses, and highways.

Another example is the recent opening of Express Lanes on State Route 91 in Riverside County, California, one of the nation’s most congested commutes. SR 91 is a critical route for the regional economy because it moves the workers for Orange and LA Counties from their homes in San Bernardino and Riverside Counties. Toll lanes now run from the City of Riverside all the way to southern Orange County. The toll lanes are now working at near capacity due to the great need for mobility improvements in the region. 

Toll lanes work and more regions and states should begin to initiate the inclusion of these lanes to reduce congestion, improve mobility and improve the driving public’s quality of life. 

There is no magic formula to funding our infrastructure. We need every tool available to improve America’s surface transportation infrastructure, and toll roads belong as part of that multifaceted toolset.  

Tom Skancke is chief executive of TSC2 Group, a management consulting firm, and is executive director of the Western Regional Alliance, an association of western transportation and metropolitan planning organisations. This article reflects his own views, not those of the Nevada Department of Transportation.

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“Every twitch, breath or thought necessitates a contactless tap”: on the rise of the chain conffeeshop as public space

Mmmm caffeine. Image: Getty.

If you visit Granary Square in Kings Cross or the more recent neighbouring development, Coal Drops Yard, you will find all the makings of a public space: office-workers munching on their lunch-break sandwiches, exuberant toddlers dancing in fountains and the expected spread of tourists.

But the reality is positively Truman Show-esque. These are just a couple examples of privately owned public spaces, or “POPS”,  which – in spite of their deceptively endearing name – are insidiously changing our city’s landscape right beneath us.

The fear is that it is often difficult to know when you are in one, and what that means for your rights. But as well as those places the private sector pretends to be public space, the inverse is equally common, and somewhat less discussed. Often citizens, use clearly private amenities like they are public. And this is never more prevalent than in the case of big-chain coffeeshops.

It goes without saying that London is expensive: often it feels like every twitch, breath or thought necessitates a contactless tap. This is where Starbucks, Pret and Costa come in. Many of us find an alternative in freeloading off their services: a place to sit, free wifi when your data is low, or an easily accessible toilet when you are about in the city. It feels like a passive-aggressive middle-finger to the hole in my pocket, only made possible by the sheer size of these companies, which allows us to go about unnoticed. Like a feature on a trail map, it’s not just that they function as public spaces, but are almost universally recognised as such, peppering our cityscapes like churches or parks.

Shouldn’t these services really be provided by the council, you may cry? Well ideally, yes – but also no, as they are not under legal obligation to do so and in an era of austerity politics, what do you really expect? UK-wide, there has been a 13 per cent drop in the number of public toilets between 2010 and 2018; the London boroughs of Wandsworth and Bromley no longer offer any public conveniences.  


For the vast majority of us, though, this will be at most a nuisance, as it is not so much a matter of if but rather when we will have access to the amenities we need. Architectural historian Ian Borden has made the point that we are free citizens in so far as we shop or work. Call it urban hell or retail heaven, but the fact is that most of us do regularly both of these things, and will cope without public spaces on a day to day. But what about those people who don’t?

It is worth asking exactly what public spaces are meant to be. Supposedly they are inclusive areas that are free and accessible to all. They should be a place you want to be, when you have nowhere else to be. A space for relaxation, to build a community or even to be alone.

So, there's an issue: it's that big-chain cafes rarely meet this criterion. Their recent implementation of codes on bathroom doors is a gentle reminder that not all are welcome, only those that can pay or at least, look as if they could. Employees are then given the power to decide who can freeload and who to turn away. 

This is all too familiar, akin to the hostile architecture implemented in many of our London boroughs. From armrests on benches to spikes on windowsills, a message is sent that you are welcome, just so long as you don’t need to be there. This amounts to nothing less than social exclusion and segregation, and it is homeless people that end up caught in this crossfire.

Between the ‘POPS’ and the coffee shops, we are squeezed further by an ever-growing private sector and a public sector in decline. Gentrification is not just about flat-whites, elaborate facial hair and fixed-gear bikes: it’s also about privatisation and monopolies. Just because something swims like a duck and quacks like a duck that doesn’t mean it is a duck. The same can be said of our public spaces.