Most Solano motorists have noticed that Highway 12 between Fairfield and Napa is gradually getting a much-needed upgrade. Concurrently, many Solano County residents have also had the joyous experience of traveling the other end of Highway 12 between Suisun City and Rio Vista.
The narrow passing windows, with people darting out from country side roads, add exhilaration to an otherwise leisurely country drive. The narrow cratered roller coaster between Highway 113 and Rio Vista gives drivers the experience of driving on the moon (with a bunch more gravity). Highway 12 recently underwent its biannual “double fine zone” recertification. Isn’t it time to make it a “double time it and make it four lanes” zone?
I first had the opportunity to utilize Highway 12 more than 20 years ago, and even then it was lacking, although I will admit some notorious spots were rectified in the past decade. Highway 12 is a vital chain in our county’s economic vitality; but a chain is only as strong as its weakest link and Highway 12 has many weak links.
How many consultants and summits will be required to determine whether we need to upgrade it? What are the obstacles preventing us from achieving this? The right of way seems to be acquired for most of the span. There aren’t any houses that need to be bulldozed or moved. Perhaps some culverts need to be moved or extended and some steeper hills be leveled. Otherwise, it seems to be a fairly straightforward project; unless a tiger salamander or similar creature presents a legal challenge.
During the spending orgy of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act a few years ago, Highway 12 should have been the poster child for public works improvement projects: Vital need, safety hazard, right of way acquired, minimal impact to existing residents (assuming you don’t count cows and sheep as residents). Yet, not much changed. We have numerous experts in the halls of government who are proficient at lobbying and applying for grant money for assorted projects (like superfluous train stations). How many resources have they brought in to get this artery upgraded?
The point is that there is a genuine natural demand for infrastructure in our county that residents have been taxed on for years and we don’t have adequate value for those resources. We just keep thinking to ourselves, “someday they’ll get around to finally getting it done.” Should we just keep on being optimistic and hope they get around to it in the next decade?
Alternatively, we could take a radical new course of action and let a private operator build out the road. They either get a fixed revenue stream from the government (the money the government theoretically has been collecting to upgrade Highway 12) or the operator could charge a toll. No risk to the taxpayer and if it doesn’t get completed, we are no worse off than we are now.
Of course, this doesn’t entail just giving the highway away. The potential operator would either buy the land, or have a longterm ground lease. The charge to use the “new and improved” highway would depend on the demand and the availability of alternate routes (too expensive? Then use Highway 4 or Interstate 80 to get to the Central Valley).
Many folks might gasp at the concept of a toll road, but the concept is not terribly foreign. We pay a toll every time we cross a bridge in the Bay Area (and most of the toll collected does not go to maintaining the bridge just crossed). In Silicon Valley, the process is on to convert car pool lanes to high-occupancy vehicle toll roads (you are not a qualified car pool, but have some money? Sure, you can use the car pool lane!) Toll roads are common on the East Coast as well.
In this era of diminishing public infrastructure investment, we the people need to consider nonstandard methods and programs to get vital goods and services provided. The “wait for the government to do it” mentality has left us with urban decay across our county and state. Are we the people willing to make the leap?
Brian Thiemer is chairman of the Solano County Libertarian Party. He can be reached at email@example.com.