Traffic, Tolls And Recession
March 18, 2009
In a letter to the editor published March 12, the author indicated the reason traffic is down on the Selmon Expressway is because of high tolls. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
The correct reason is the recession. Traffic is down about 5 percent on the Selmon from last year. That drop is about the same for traffic on toll roads and "free roads" and is consistent throughout Florida and the nation.
The Selmon Expressway is a true commuter facility - and as the unemployment rate increased, our commuter traffic went down. In fact, traffic on the Selmon was growing prior to August 2007. That was when unemployment in the Tampa Bay region began its upward surge and our traffic began to decline. When the nation, and our region, recovers from the recession, we are certain traffic on the Selmon Expressway will rebound as well.
The Selmon provides a choice versus the urban stop-and-go traffic on the parallel "free roadways." A full-length trip saves significant time and fuel compared to the urban street traffic. That is the value to our customers in exchange for the toll. Drivers on the Selmon make a choice based on that value. The Selmon is a great choice to have.
In response to these tough economic times the Tampa-Hillsborough County Expressway Authority (THEA), which runs the Selmon, is striving to contain operating costs. Examples to date include cutting staff, seeking sponsorships to continue customer services like our Road Ranger and successfully procuring a new maintenance contract at a reduced cost while providing an even higher lever of service.
Another service enhancement that THEA is aggressively pursuing is the future conversion of the Selmon Expressway to an all-electronic toll system. This will provide more capacity and faster trips on the Selmon Expressway while reducing operating costs even further. It may also provide opportunities to experiment with alternative toll rates to encourage use of the Selmon Expressway - like reduced rates for full distance trips.
The letter writer also suggested "free use" for motorcycles. The capacity of the Selmon to move vehicles - or space on the road - is our product. It is the value in exchange for the toll that is offered to our customers. Cars, SUVs and motorcycles each absorb the same amount of capacity on the road. The toll revenue repays the bond holders who invested in the facility to make it a reality. Accordingly, THEA's bond agreements do not allow free use of the expressway. The only exception is in emergency situations like hurricane events which require regional evacuations - and then only at the governor's direction.
THEA will continue seeking cost efficiencies and service enhancements. Our goal is to provide our customers the best value possible for the price of the toll.
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