Support for and Behavioral Responses to Tolls: Insights From Hampton Roads, Virginia

Support for and Behavioral Responses to Tolls: Insights From Hampton Roads, Virginia

Juita-Elena (Wie) Yusuf (Old Dominion University, USA), Lenahan L. O'Connell (University of Kentucky, USA), Donta Council (Old Dominion University, USA), Khairul Azfi Anuar (Old Dominion University, USA), David Chapman (Old Dominion University, USA), Tancy Vandecar-Burdin (Old Dominion University, USA) and Meagan M. Jordan (Old Dominion University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7396-8.ch006


This chapter analyzes the experiences with tolling in the Hampton Roads region of Southeastern Virginia to better understand residents' and drivers' support for tolls and behavioral responses to tolls. The Hampton Roads region, with its population of 1.7 million and extensive network of highways, roads, bridges, and tunnels, has a long history of toll facilities that date back to the 1920s. The most recent tunnel tolls, associated with the Elizabeth River Crossing Project and introduced in February 2014, are the focus of this chapter. This chapter analyzes two sets of survey data to provide insights that have implications for policies regarding tolling: (1) The Life in Hampton Roads Surveys which includes questions about support for tolls and toll avoidance behaviors; and (2) two surveys (pre- and post- toll implementation) commissioned by the regional transportation planning organization.
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“In infrastructure, you get what you pay for and for decades we haven’t been paying nearly enough” (American Society of Civil Engineers, 2017, p. 2). According to the 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, $4.59 trillion is the infrastructure investment need over a 10-year period for the nation’s infrastructure to earn and maintain a grade of B (good, adequate for now). Every four years since 2001, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) releases its assessment of the nation’s infrastructure, and once again, America’s infrastructure received a grade of D+ (poor, at risk). According to the ASCE grading scale, a grade of D indicates that many elements of the infrastructure may be “approaching the end of their service life…exhibits significant deterioration…with strong risk of failure” (p.13). The nation’s infrastructure has scored a D or D+ since the advent of the four-year periodic grading. Specifically, bridges have scored a C+ while the roads have scored a D. These bridge and road scores have been consistent during a time of increased use (American Society of Civil Engineers, 2017).

The ASCE’s 2017 report explicitly emphasizes that federal and state funding of infrastructure is woefully inadequate for addressing deteriorating infrastructure. They conclude that “the U.S. has only been paying half of its infrastructure bill for some time” (p. 7). Reportedly, there is a $836 billion backlog of highway and bridge needs with about 50% of that needed to repair existing highways and 15% o needed for repairing bridges.

Given this inadequacy, funding mechanisms or revenue raising methods need to be reexamined. The Federal Highway Trust Fund is the primary source for federal highway funding. The federal motor fuels tax serves as the primary source of revenue for the Highway Trust Fund (Yusuf, 2014). However, the tax rate of the federal motor fuels tax has been stagnant at 18.4 cents per gallon of gasoline and 24.4 cents per gallon of diesel fuel since 1993. At the state level, the motor fuels tax has similarly been cited as a source of the crisis in highway finance (O'Connell & Yusuf, 2013; Yusuf & O'Connell, 2013) with roots in three primary issues: (1) the tax is levied on a per gallon basis that does not automatically adjust with inflation; (2) vehicle fuel efficiency has increased, reducing fuel consumption per mile traveled; and (3) the impact of inflation on construction costs. Local governments are not immune to the problem; as Yusuf, O'Connell, and Abutabenjeh (2011) point out, localities in the U.S.A. are also confronting a crisis in highway finance that forces local governments to look for new sources of funding.

The ASCE argues that infrastructure is the “backbone” of the economy and therefore infrastructure investment is an investment in the U.S. economy. In its 2016 economic impact study, Failure to Act: Closing the Infrastructure Investment Gap for America’s Economic Future (2016), the ASCE emphasizes the costs of deteriorating infrastructure to businesses and households. These costs for 2015 are estimated at $147 billion, which include higher operating and repair costs of vehicles, safety costs, environmental costs, and time costs. These costs are expected to increase substantially as the delay of sufficient funding continues. Furthermore, the deficient and deteriorating infrastructure negatively impacts productivity across job sectors. The ASCE estimates a loss of $3400 per year in household disposable income, millions of lost jobs, and a $4 trillion loss in gross domestic product by 2025 (American Society of Civil Engineers, 2016).

Key Terms in this Chapter

High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) Lanes: Lanes accessed by vehicles with multiple occupants (especially at high traffic times) to encourage carpooling and a less congested route for the drivers while also reducing congestion on alternative routes. A form of transportation demand management.

Social Equity: A concept concerned with the fair and equitable provision, implementation, and impact of services, programs, and policies.

Road Pricing: A direct charge imposed for the use of roads to generate revenues and/or as a transportation demand management tool to manage the flow of traffic or curtail the overcrowding of roadway. Also known as road user charges, road pricing is a broad term that includes tolls, distance or time-based fees, and congestion charges.

High Occupancy Toll (HOT) Lanes: Lanes accessed by vehicles with multiple occupants and charged a fee for use (especially at high traffic times) to encourage carpooling and a less congested route for the drivers while also reducing congestion on alternative routes. A form of transportation demand management.

Toll Road: A road or highway that drivers must pay a fee or toll to use. In the U.S.A. toll roads are also known as a turnpike or tollway. The toll revenues are generally used to recoup the cost of road construction and maintenance.

Motor Fuel Tax: In the U.S.A. the motor fuel tax is a federal or state excise tax levied per gallon of gasoline or diesel fuel used by vehicles. The motor fuel tax is the primary source of revenue for transportation in the U.S.A.

Transportation Network Company: “Ride-share” company that matches contracted, independent drivers and passengers via mobile apps as an alternative to public transportation and taxi cab service. Sometimes known as mobility service providers or ride-hailing services. TNC services include those provided by Uber and Grab.

Tolling: A form of road pricing in which a fee is assessed for use of the tolled facility.

Public-Private Partnership: A cooperative agreement between at least two public and private sector organizations for the delivery of goods or services to the public.

E-Z Pass Transponder: A tool mounted on the vehicle that signals the equipment at the tolled facility to electronically charge the owner of the transponder for the use of the tolled facility without requiring the driver to stop.

Transportation Demand Management: A set of strategies and policies with the goal of influencing travel behavior to reduce travel demand or redistribute demand, thus managing or reducing congestion.

Federal Highway Trust Fund: A fund that receives the proceeds of the federal fuel tax on gallons of gasoline and diesel fuel.

Hampton Roads: A region of southeastern Virginia bounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the Chesapeake Bay, James River, and the Elizabeth River.

Congestion Pricing: A surcharge imposed to manage the flow of traffic or curtail the overcrowding of roadway by regulating demand and thus making it possible to manage congestion without increasing demand. The objective of congestion pricing (also known as congestion charging) is to use price mechanisms to make drivers conscious of their costs during peak demand periods and encourage them to redistribute their demand in time and/or space.

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