PRICE ELASTICITY: Ohio Turnpike ups tolls and wins
By Peter Samuel
Most toll rates in the US are way too low, transport economists will tell you. In part because the toll authorities are set up as non-profits, in part because they dont account properly for replacement cost of their capital assets, just the historic cost of their facilities, (something of interest only to historians), but most of all because they are seen as government agencies and toll rate increases are unpopular and a big political issue.
But every now and then they bite the bullet and do it.
The Ohio Turnpike is two thirds through a 5-phased 82% increase in its tolls 1995-1998 to produce the revenues needed to support the debt sold to do $700m of third-laning and other works Toldeo-Youngstown (255km of its 385km road, which stretches across the north of the state from Pennsylvania to Indiana.) It is interesting to look at what is happening to its traffic following the first full year of reporting after toll increases.
1996 saw toll rates 20% up on 1995. Tolls for cars went from 1.4c/km to 1.7c/km, trucks from 4.8c/km to 5.7c/km.
Traffic numbers overall were down 2.3%. Cars were down 2.5% and trucks down 1.4%. So toll revenue was up a whacking 16.5% to $119m.
The commission in its annual report calls the lower traffic numbers disappointing but it is difficult to see why. Construction work is going on and this together with the higher toll rates would seem likely to make alternative routes more attractive (or less unattractive) than previously.
There was an increase in accidents with all the construction going on 11% more in total with the rate/km traveled up 13%. Injuries went from 700 to 780. Fatalities went from 12 to 13.
Most of the OH pike is 2x2-lanes of 12 (3.66m) reinforced concrete overlaid with asphalt with asphalt shoulders 10 (3.05m) wide on the outside and 8 (2.44m) wide inside, with a 40 (12.2m) grass median in the center. The third laning is eliminating the grass median and inner shoulders and substituting inner full-depth asphalt travel lanes and inner paved shoulders of 143 (4.34m) width on either side of a 1.28m (50) high Jersey barrier. Climbing grades are being kept to 2% max and descending to 3.14%. Heavy trucks are generally prohibited from using the new inner lanes
54km of the new 3/3 cross-section was constructed in 1996.
Background: The Ohio turnpike tolls by trip, issuing magstripe tickets which record the entry point and are handed to an attendant at exit as proof of journey origin. It has 30 tollplazas, including 2 barrier plazas each end, 28 interchanges, (25 all-movements, 3 partial), and 8 service plazas. The Ohio pike is the busiest of the east-west turnpikes between the NJ state line and Chicago. That is partly because the Pennsylvania Turnpike (I-76) traffic converges with I-80 traffic not far from the eastern end of the pike at Youngstown and then (traveling west) I-90 traffic joins as well at Cleveland as Lake Eries southern intrusion into the great plans squashes 3 major east-west routes together. At Toledo I-75 heads up to the Detroit area and Ontario.
The pikes toll collection has not been quick to modernize. The pike has announced no plans for electronic toll collection and until recently entry tickets were manually handed to patrons. Automatic magstripe ticket dispensers were only recently installed. (Contact Heidi Jedel Ohio pike 216 234 2081)