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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Adding more lanes won't fix I-70 traffic

This article talks about how the issues associated with road maintenance and expansion have taken a back seat in the 2010 election. The article mentions the need repairing and expanding Colorado roads, particularly along I-70, between Denver and the ski resorts. The author explains that there is a need to do something about the traffic, and safety issues associated with that are. He describes a few options on the table including adding new lanes and adding "zipper" lanes, which would allow the median to be mobile, thus shifting the lanes to optimize flow during peak travel times. He also described the need for the government to allocate the money for the building of new lanes, as well as maintaining and repairing existing roadways. The author complains that this issue of transportation is remaining on the back burner of the current CO election; but roads shouldn't be the commission of the state, or the hot issues of an election.

From an economics stand point, this should not have to be an election issue at all. Simply put, there is no market failure for roads. Roads are club goods and should be handled as such. The author of this article is making the common mistake that road are public goods. However, public goods must be both non-excludable and non-rival, and roads cannot meet these requirements. It is easy to exclude people from roads, think of toll roads.

The problem with making this common mistake, as we discussed in class, is that the solutions for a public good problem will not work for a club good. Meaning, if we treat roads as a public good and just add more and more lanes, more and more people will be encouraged to use them. Without a fee to help regulate use, new lanes will work for a short time, and then we will find our selves with traffic congestion as bad as before adding the lanes. If I-70 was treated like a club good, then it would be managed as a toll road. This would not only better regulate the traffic, but would also raise money for when repairs need to be made. If our leaders continue to view roads as public good, we will just keep adding lanes to roads and creating an inefficiency.

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