By JOHN MCLAURIN

The collapse of the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis has not been lost on those of us in California who rely on a transportation infrastructure of the same vintage, or older, as that unfortunate span in Minnesota. Skimping on long-overdue bridge replacement and repair, and using transportation funds to balance the state budget, is a recipe for disaster.


Within weeks of the tragedy in Minneapolis, officials there worked with great speed to mitigate the loss of a major highway, and in the process secured a large federal grant. Yet the ultimate solution for funding the Minneapolis project is not a grant alone, but one familiar to drivers nationwide and the various components of our freight supply chain: tolling and congestion-management pricing.


It is worth noting that Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, in announcing his opposition to proposed container tax legislation, recently called for priority action in replacing the bridges that serve the ports. There is no question that these bridges need to be upgraded, and the private sector stands ready to answer the Mayor's call. Indeed, industry has offered to pay for these projects and other infrastructure through tolls clear and direct user fees.


We now renew our call for a Terminal Island Toll Authority, where the users of the bridges would pay tolls for the repair, maintenance and replacement of the Gerald Desmond, Schuyler Heim and Vincent Thomas Bridges. By the Port's own internal study a reasonable toll could gross approximately $2.5 billion over 30 years, more than enough to cover the price of these bridges. It is not unimaginable that a congestion-priced toll would raise even more revenue than projected and further reduce congestion for all drivers on these bridges and the 110 and 710 freeways.


Conventional wisdom is that Southern Californians will never accept tolling. Of course, if you remember the Vincent Thomas Bridge tolls, or if you now commute through Orange County on the San Joaquin Hills or Foothill toll roads, use the Riverside Freeway (91) express lanes, or drive on I -15 through San Diego County, you know that this is not true. Tolls and congestion-management pricing not only reduce congestion and provide additional transportation options, but they helped finance these road projects.


Toll technology

As discovered throughout the country, and as implemented at the new Benicia Bridge in Northern California, toll-paying does not need to result in long lines of idling commuters and trucks. Technology now provides for electronic transponders and an array of other devices to implement "open road tolling" where tolls can be paid at freeway speeds without booths or plazas.

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