A Chicago congestion tax reveals regional issues in addressing traffic

Looking for revenue and to reduce traffic, a congestion tax may be on the table in Chicago:

According to Michael Sneed in the Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Alderman Ed Burke recently persuaded Mayor Rahm Emanuel “to study the feasibility and logistics of collecting a congestion fee from suburbanites who drive into the city.” The move could raise millions for the city and keep cars off city streets, easing congestion.

A panel has since been tasked with determining how such a fee would be collected, where it could be collected, and the costs of operating such a program…

In the Sun-Times, Burke was quoted as saying a congestion tax has been “extremely successful” in European cities such as London. There, drivers pay a charge for being able to enter certain zones from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays. Cameras monitor the zones and drivers who don’t pay are fined.

About 194,000 vehicles drive to Chicago’s main business district each day from elsewhere in the city and the suburbs, according to a Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning study conducted before Feb. 2010.

Traffic is a major problem in the Chicago region; see a recent report as to how many hours are lost each year. A congestion tax could be part of a comprehensive answer to this. However, it would be silly to expect this tax on its own to solve all the problems. Having effective mass transit across the region would help. If you want people to drive less, they need to have viable train and bus options. Having denser development near job centers throughout the region would help. Promoting Chicago’s core may be good but it also means concentrating more people from throughout the region on a single place. Promoting more bicycling and walking would help. Simply adding more lanes and roads does not necessarily help.

The other interesting part of this story from the Daily Herald are the predictable negative reactions from suburban leaders. They don’t want suburbanites to be penalized for going into Chicago. Yet, solutions to these issues have to be at the regional level. If suburban leaders don’t want a congestion tax, what are they willing to give to improve transit throughout the region? Can everyone contribute some money to help all residents of the region? The efforts of individual communities – even Chicago if it is just acting alone – won’t be enough.

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