Robert Prather links and excerpts some calls for High Occupancy Toll roads as a short-term fix for easing traffic congestion in places like the DC area. It is an interesting idea and might indeed provide a bit of relief.

Still, I tire of the continual spread of user fees for ordinary government services. Roads are one of the few things that even purists–including Adam Smith himself–believe should be provided by the state. Access to the basic infrastructure of society should not be segregated based on ability to pay.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Adam Smith considered roads a natural monopoly and he was right in 1776. Transponder technology has changed that. There’s really no other way to keep each new road from filling up as soon as it’s built.

    I figured this would catch your eye seeing as you’ve named your blog after the very roads in question.

  2. James Joyner says:


    My feeling on roads is that we should share the misery equally. While public transportation won’t work in most of the US, it is doable in places like the DC Metro area. The solution is to enable more people to use it. I live far enough out that using Metro is not a viable option since, by the time I get to a Metro station and find a parking spot, I can almost always get to my destination. Some combination of rapid bus and monorail should be doable to get more of us into the system.

  3. Dodd says:

    I have to disagree, James. *Access* to basic infrastructure isn’t being “segregated” (a very loaded term) by ablity to pay here – convenience is. Those who are willing to pay for a reduced commute can do so. That reduced commute is also available – at no charge – for anyone willing to make the effort to organize a carpool.

    Besides, once the currently underutilized HOV lanes are carrying more traffic, there will be a non-trivial reduction in the congestion in the other lanes, meaning that in some small way the paying HOT lane customers will also be benefitting those who don’t want to pay. The effect will admittedly be small, but it will be there. Finally, every car that’s actually moving rather than lumbering along in stop-and-go traffic will emit less pollution, benefitting everyone in the area.

  4. jen says:

    Carpooling is a bad idea all around – sure it may reduce cars on the roads, but it also reduces productivity in the workplace because of the workers who are dictated by the time constraints of their carpool. It’s why so many have opted not to carpool, they have better freedom to work longer hours or more flexible hours and thus are more productive workers.

    VDOT needs to abolish the HOV lanes and free up those lanes for the congested traffic. Sadly, while the HOT lanes may help in the short term, unless the ridiculous build up of new housing doesn’t stop, there’s no way the existing roads will be able to accommodate the additional drivers.

  5. Jen,

    Carpooling is only one alternative. Flex-time and telecommuting are two other options. Pricing would make people consider these options.

    BTW, mass-transit could even become economical, i.e. not need a subsidy, if a pricing structure were in place for all of the roads. I know that won’t happen, but it is a theoretical possibility.

  6. Paul says:

    Call this post “Queer eye from a simple guy.”

    Why don’t they just build more lanes?

    I know.. I’m a simpleton.

  7. James Joyner says:

    Well, more lanes are phenomenally expensive, take a long time to build, and require the destruction of the land upon which they’d be built.