The debt load accumulated by the toll roads in Orange County, California is unsustainable, according to a study released Tuesday by the Pacific Research Institute. Researchers Donna Arduin, former budget director for California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and Wayne Winegarden, a senior fellow at PRI, examined the financial status of the publicly owned Foothill-Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency's 241 toll road and the San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor Agency's 73 toll road.
Advocates insist tolling is a superior transportation funding mechanism because it is based on the concept of "user fees"—those who use the toll road are the ones who pay for it. This concept has gone out the window with the Transportation Corridor Agency (TCA) toll roads, which the report found use an estimated $1.7 billion in taxpayer subsidies. Worse, the roads are deeply in debt.
"Based on our review, the operations of these toll roads presently appear to be unsustainable and likely have been unworkable from their inception," Arduin and Winegarden wrote. "The original financial plans for the 241 and 73 toll roads were based on overly optimistic growth assumptions and did not leave a financial cushion for TCA to operate under reduced utilization or economic downturns. Subsequent decisions by TCA board members and managers have made matters worse."