Congestion Pricing a Bi-Partisan Issue

With the Republicans coming to Minnesota next week, one of the truly bi-partisan initiatives in Minnesota they should note is the collaboration between Republicans and Democrats in tackling urban congestion. While there has been a fierce partisan battle in Minnesota over raising gas and sales taxes to fund roads and transit, Republican and Democratic leaders have worked together to move forward a project to reduce congestion on I-35W. The project involves the use of congestion pricing, also known as high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes, along with transit improvements, telecommuting promotion, and new technologies to significantly reduce congestion on I-35W from downtown Minneapolis through southern suburbs. This partnership, which involves a broad coalition of state and local governments along with the University of Minnesota, the Citizens League and private sector leaders, successfully competed for a $133 million US Department of Transportation grant to implement the congestion reduction project. Congestion pricing bridges the gap between liberals and conservatives. For conservatives, congestion pricing is attractive because it uses the free market to efficiently allocate a scarce resource. For liberals, congestion pricing represents a way to get maximum use of a public asset, while still preserving premium service for transit and carpooling.

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Interestingly, I heard the Republican Party conference call today (Thursday, prior to Obama's speech), with the main speaker being Gov. Pawlenty. One reporter asked what the Republicans intend to do to improve infrastructure without resorting to higher gas taxes. Gov. Pawlenty's response was congestion pricing and public/private partnerships. Never thought I would hear the words "congestion pricing" uttered as an *acceptable alternative* in a national policy debate.

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Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs