Nevadans must reject higher taxes for roads

Forbes has a pretty good story about how private roads work in Switzerland:

When an anarchist libertarian suggests we could do without the state altogether, the first astonished question is almost always, “But who would build the roads?”

Most folks don’t think very much at all about government, but everyone seems to believe the most important function of the state is to somehow build roads, and obviously no one else can.

We once had a mayor in Reno, Pete Sferrazza, whose nickname was “Pothole Pete.” Linked to poor maintenance is the fact that tens of thousands die on the government-built roads every year. Does the road builder bear no responsibility for those deaths?

When asked to provide road safety, the state responds with more seat belt and motorcycle helmet laws, DUI laws and now anti-texting laws. Isn’t there a better way to have safer, higher quality roads?

This October, the National Transportation Research Group published a study declaring that drivers in Reno and Carson City environs pay $1,700 more annually in lost time, extra vehicle repair costs, accident costs, etc., than we should. The study shows our additional Vehicle Operating Costs (VOC) are the second worst among midsize cities in the nation. Nevada lobbies Washington, D.C., for highway funds and will almost certainly want to raise gas taxes to pay for more government-built “infrastructure.”

Compounding the problem, the National Highway Transportation Fund is broke. Like the Social Security Trust Fund, it has been raided over and over for non-highway spending, such as public transit boondoggles.

Government bureaucrats are considering putting a black box on your car that would track your miles driven and tax you based on that data. What else could that box do? The ACLU and many libertarians are concerned that it would lead to tracking your whereabouts. Would we need another Edward Snowden to come clean about how that data is used? There was a test drive of the device in Nevada, but Nevadans were leery of the privacy implications, and it has been shelved, at least for now.

The state is a monopoly provider of roads. We complain about the gas taxes, but do we stop to consider that monopolies tend to raise prices while decreasing service? And that is even more true for state monopolies than private monopolies.

Many roads in this country, particularly in the Eastern U.S., are privately built. In order to be truly private, a road or highway must have competition, and it must have the ability to exclude some drivers. Consumer options could even be built into a public highway, like private Hot Lanes where for a quick toll you can drive out of the congested lanes. Any Nevadan who has driven to Las Vegas and been slowed to a crawl the last 20 miles would appreciate a Hot Lane. Private roads would generally charge by a toll or subscription. Competition would keep the tolls palatable.

Private roads offer the opportunity for innovation and choice. Hot Lanes, congestion pricing (lessening congestion by charging more for peak travel times), bundled road service options—who knows? Competition would enable private roads to surpass public roads in service and safety.

Nevadans should reject higher taxes for roads. We can have superior roads without a government monopoly. We know the private sector offers more choices at lower prices through competition and consumer choice than a state monopoly does. Just look at public education. We need market solutions to Nevada’s infrastructure problems. We need a diverse discussion about transportation in Nevada, not one that is married to the idea that only the state can provide this public good.