Billy Bob sits in gridlock between Monument and Castle Rock on I-25. He patiently jams to music, never minding the wait.
Mike is not so fortunate. In the same traffic, he misses a meeting that will cost him a job.
Sue misses a flight out of Denver.
Martha's ambulance cannot get to the hospital in time for doctors to save a limb.
Mike, Sue and Martha cannot afford a traffic jam. They would gladly pay a fee to move faster in a special-access lane.
Drivers will have this choice in the near future if the Department of Transportation places tolls on lanes proposed to widen the 17-mile gap.
Transportation officials will discuss the widening plan from 5 p.m.-7 p.m. Thursday at the El Paso County Office of Emergency Management, 3755 Mark Dabling Boulevard. The meeting is open to the public.
State officials want a federal grant to help pay for the project, and won't likely get one without a plan for tolls. Throughout Colorado and the rest of the country, toll lanes have become a standard means of funding highway upgrades and maintenance.
It is a good method of combining user fees and taxes to pay for transportation. Everyone pays, but those with the greatest need for speed can choose to pay more.
In implementing tolls through the I-25 Gap, the state should use "congestion pricing." It involves real-time monitoring of traffic. Fluid fees rise and fall with demand. Properly managed, everyone wins.
"Congestion pricing - sometimes called value pricing - is a way of harnessing the power of the market to reduce the waste associated with traffic congestion," explains the Federal Highway Administration's website.
Opponents characterize toll lanes as a form of regressive taxation that whisks the rich past the poor. They use the phrase "Lexus Lanes." The compelling and emotional egalitarian plea does not withstand scrutiny.
A California study of toll lanes on I-10, I-110 and SR 91 showed paying customers mostly drive the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic and other cars priced for middle and working-class consumers.
Another study confirmed how managed toll lanes improve flow in adjacent, non-managed free lanes. By renting space in a toll lane, Mike, Sue and Martha remove themselves from congestion and ease traffic for Billy Bob and others who can afford to wait.
A fluctuating toll works like a valve. If two free lanes are crowded and slowing, traffic officials attract more customers to the toll lane by lowering the price. It strikes a supply and demand balance between drivers in a rush and those who can afford to wait.
Fair pricing allocates food, shelter, clothing and most other services and goods. It brings order to chaos, even in traffic.