This is a great blog post from the NY Times about the economic structure of our transportation network.

Gilles Duranton and Matthew Turner’s “Fundamental Law of Traffic Congestion: Evidence From the U.S.” states that vehicle-miles-traveled increases roughly one-for-one with miles of roads built. More highways mean more drivers, so we are never going to build our way out of traffic congestion. People will keep on driving until they are made to pay for that privilege.

Privatization, in principle, offers the possibility of working on both the engineering and economics fronts.

Private road operators or airports will charge higher fees during peak periods to cut down on congestion, and they have incentives to innovate technologically to attract customers and cut costs. Mr. Winston notes that capsule, or pod, hotels, “which enable fliers to nap between flights,” happen to be “available in private airports, but none is available in the United States.

Because the public sector controls almost all roads, airports and urban transit, we see the downsides of public control on a daily basis, but we don’t experience the social costs that could accompany privatization. A private airport operator might try to exploit its monopoly power over a particular market or cut costs in a way that increases the probability of very costly, but rare, disaster.

The complexity and risks of switching to private provision means that Mr. Winston is wise to call for experimentation rather than wholesale privatization. An incremental process of trying things out will provide information and build public support.

Yet many of Mr. Winston’s recommendations are incremental and can be done without privatization or much risk.

Private jitney operators could be permitted to compete freely with public bus lines in urban markets (In New York City, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is already testing this idea.) New York could also implement a congestion charge (as Mayor Bloomberg has proposed on several occasions, to clamorous opposition). Tolls could be increased on busy commuting highways during peak hours and lowered off-peak. Airports — especially those in the New York area — could raise the landing fees during peak periods.

This issue is all the more relevant here in Miami where elected officials struggle to provide even a basic level of public transit. While privatization might bring unknown social costs, a social cost is already being incurred because of our deficient transit system. The lack of convenient and frequent mass transit opportunities exacerbates problems of social inequity. Not owning a car in Miami-Dade County is a barrier to employment, yet Commissioners do nothing to advance premium transit expansion. At the same time MDX is planning a multibillion dollar highway expansion through some of our last remaining natural preserves and pushing through ‘lexus lanes’ on our only physically separated and dedicated bus transit line. Who are these people serving? This type of planning demonstrates that our leaders continue to be poor stewards of public lands, and have little interest in providing the residents of Dade County with a balance of mobility options. I for one would welcome a private enterprise that could help ease the burden on the County as it struggles to ‘right-size’ both its transit system and highway network.

12 Responses to MDX Should Not Build More Unnecessary Highways to Justify Its Existence

  1. M says:

    Great ideas Tony, and at the very least, it should get us thinking. I just saw that Miami Dade County has a new website, called myGOVidea, for submitting ideas to make the community better. It also allows users to vote on ideas as well. I just thought this might be of interest to you all, especially for ideas on improving, funding, or offering better transportation options in the county.


  2. Soli says:

    That reminds me a lot of what I’ve been saying for at least a year now. I’d like to see MDX get involved in creating transit services rather than just building toll roads, just to have a reason for being.


  3. transit guru says:

    MDX just shows how engrained people are to their cars. I love transit, but we need to be teaming with MDX not fighting its existence. They are private in that they charge tolls for their projects unlike the Palmetto that the state has sunk billions into. Let private companies take the expressways and the state fund high speed rail.


  4. Tony Garcia says:

    Transit Guru….they might want to think they are private, but they use public lands for their so-called public projects. not to mention, some of their plans according to their own planners will not pass FTA funding tests becuase they will kill transit ridership (aka the US1 lexus lanes).


  5. Jeff says:

    I went to Tokyo a while back and was amazed at their transit system, which is part privately owned (e.g. Japan Railway). I agree that privatization should be looked into where fit since they tend to be more business savvy than the government (more likely to return a profit). On a side note, I am split on the US-1 busway; i would love to see the metrorail expanded and replace the buslane but realistically that may never happen. This being the case I would be in favor of turning the busway into an elevated road since A) it would decrease travel time for both cars (driving longer distances) and buses, B) provide a possible source of revenue (perhaps some may go towards transit), and C) decrease problems associated with the current design such as car accidents. Just my 2 cents.


  6. todd says:

    Privatizing transit?! Brilliant. The problem is for mass infrastructure like rail to be viable you need large numbers of passengers, but many of the riders would not be able to afford the market value of ridership. there’s a reason people make things like health care, transit, utilities, etc., public, because a large section of the population can’t really afford them otherwise.

    Look at places with privatized transit, India, Haiti, etc., actually you don’t need to look far. We have jitney’s in Miami already. If you think mdx is bad, try riding the liberty city jittneys, or the ones through little haiti. Profit and efficiency are contradictory. The companies will do what makes them the most money, which will buck against efficiency for riders and equal access to transit infrastructure for the poor and working class.

    We need to get better at organizing in communities to demand transit, not just give up the game altogether.


  7. TransitDave says:

    Without addressing the relative merits of the projects that MDX is working on,
    I’ve been saying for years that they should be in charge of planning transit projects as well, because they have all the resources, political pull, staff, etc to do it…..But don’t expect the MD county commission to give up control of the PTP funds without a fight, any more than they would the airport, which is their cash cow….


  8. Thanks for the great blog! Two points:

    Neighbors are up in arms over the toll increases of recent months. MDX has betrayed their mandate by showing that toll increases are NOT for maintaining the current roads.

    Private transit has a long and successful tradition in the U.S. NYC’s subways began as privately funded enterprises. So did many light rail lines, such as Cleveland’s Shaker Rapid, which enabled what we now call “Transit-Oriented Development” but which was then just how things were done. Today’s bloated equivalent is when Arvida “gives” land for building I-75, but we pay for the roadway that feeds the sprawl called Weston. At least the builders of Shaker Heights funded their own transit improvements. Today, the taxpayers foot the bill. Privatized profits, socialized costs.


  9. Banner Elk says:

    Check out


  10. Repeal_The_Va_Radar_Detector_Ban says:

    When the highways and airports are turned over to private companies, they will set fees so high that they will not be able to stay in business and cry to the government to buy them out.
    Also the government will continue to charge taxes to pay for roads and airports that are private. In the end you will be paying for these projects twice. If the government had not cut taxes at the rate they have, we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in.


  11. Carlos says:

    Thank you Eddy Stevens-Torrealba for pointing us to
    We need to bring more awareness and encourage involvement from the community on MDX. The more we dig into who they are and what they want the more they need to be exposed.
    We coined the word “Tollation” to express our lack of representation and input for how the roads and highways are built and managed.
    Also, please check out our music video here.
    Or go to our website
    We all need to work together to have more say and control of OUR roads.


  12. I think the argument here isn’t about the tolls themselves. Tolling can be a useful tool to help change human behavior when used appropriately (e.g. Congestion Pricing) as part of a larger program aimed at reducing congestion. This has to be a coordinated effort and not a one-off solution from an isolated agency or municipality.

    The fact of the matter is that roads are expensive to build and maintain. Driving habits, largely induced by suburban lifestyle, require many to depend on automobiles for the majority of their daily transport needs. These roads (and subsequently the goods which travel upon them) are subsidized on many different levels. The tolls collected by MDX (in addition to the gas taxes, vehicle registration fees, etc.) do not reflect the fair share of the cost to build and maintain the entire roadway network. (Note: the ideal solution to this dilemma, a pay as you drive alternative, has been endorsed by the Secretary of Transportation but rejected by the Executive branch of the Federal Government - a few regions are still exploring the concept further.)

    The real issue here is that MDX continues to build highways just for the sake of remaining relevant. Its an additional entity in a crowded bureaucracy, with deeper pockets and steady cash flow to dedicate to new facilities and the maintenance of their existing highways. The sprawl purported by MDX ultimately falls on the shoulders of other entities who themselves do not benefit from the toll revenue. Recent proposals to add high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes to the South Miami-Dade busway is indicative of the one-sided, autocentric “solutions” emanating from MDX and South Florida transportation leaders.

    At the end of the day, we can gloss up a few hybrid buses and provide them access to the HOT lanes for free, all in the name of building “rapid transit” (as we’ve already done on I-95). However, we will find that these measures will prove ineffective until one of two events occur: (A) We substantially increase the intensity (Density) land use (e.g. 17 people per acre) allowing for the successful operation of transit along local roadways and utilize the HOT lanes to connect more distant regions OR (B) Develop an Open-Road Tolling concept which creates vast economic disincentives and thereby restricts access to the highways while forcing users to seek alternate routes or modes of transportation.

    Of the two options above, having no say in land development or urban growth, MDX can only choose the latter. The agency is aiming to expand its open-road tolling concept to price users out of accessing the highway. However, the alternatives to the congestion charge do not yet exist and the pricing scheme in place isn’t sufficient to deter any real behavioral changes - netting MDX a substantial sum with which to continue expanding highways endlessly.

    At the end of the day, what this boils down to is a lack of coordination, planning, and vision on the part of our Transportation agencies (In Miami-Dade alone: MDT, MDX, FDOT, Tri-Rail, and various City operated transit) and governing entities (State, MPO, County, and Municipal).

    While agree with you that they are “your” roads. I invite you to calculate the true socioeconomic cost of driving. In the end, financially at least, you’re getting quite a deal. The real issue here isn’t that MDX continues to charge tolls - its that MDX is doing so without a viable, long term plan - a plan that would incorporate all modes of transportation and governing bodies while outlining a clear objective for transportation and growth in the region. (Note: this is out of MDX’s control - the plan shouldn’t stem from the agency but rather the County, MPO, or State. The LRTP, in its current incarnation, is an insufficient effort.)


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