Turn Highway 1 in Big Sur into a toll road? Bad idea

The massive Mud Creek Slide has wiped out a portion of Highway 1 south of Gorda.
The massive Mud Creek Slide has wiped out a portion of Highway 1 south of Gorda. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Toll roads are relatively rare in California. Let’s keep it that way.

As tempting as it may be to turn to tolls to raise revenue for major highway expansions and repairs — such as the restoration of Highway 1 through Big Sur — that’s unfair to Californians already paying taxes and fees to support roads.

To be clear, we know of no formal proposals to charge a toll on the Big Sur stretch of Highway 1. However, it’s been a topic of conversation and the subject of a few letters to the editor in The Tribune and elsewhere, especially since the huge slide at Mud Creek buried a portion of the road.

It’s an understandable suggestion. One look at the mountain of dirt and rock that covered the highway is all it takes to recognize the mammoth and expensive task Caltrans faces.

But this is a state highway — the only highway through the area. It’s not a state park or a roadside attraction that drivers can take or leave. It’s the only way to get from Point A to Point B on this stretch of coastline.

Highway 1 at Mud Creek in Big Sur remains closed as “significant” amounts of dirt and rock continue to slide down the slope from above. This video taken from a Monterey County Sheriff's Office airplane shows the massive slide, which "went from bad

Exempting local residents from paying a toll wouldn’t make it OK. Just because out-of-town tourists might be willing to pay to drive this iconic stretch of road doesn’t mean they should have to fork over a “beauty tax” for the privilege of driving on one of our public highways. Once that starts, where will it end? Will every designated scenic highway turn into a money-making opportunity for California?

Remember, Senate Bill 1 was signed into law in late April to take care of California’s road repair and maintenance needs. The law raises gasoline and diesel taxes and the vehicle license fee. Beginning in 2020, it also imposes a new, $100 road improvement fee for zero-emission vehicles. The taxes and fees are expected to generate $5 billion per year.

We supported SB1. We still do. Many of California’s roads — including many in San Luis Obispo County — are in terrible shape. The longer we put off repairs, the more expensive it’s going to be.

But let’s forget about tolls. They’re another burden on taxpayers who are already burdened enough.

Caltrans offered a look at the work being done to build the new Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge, which was demolished earlier this year after it was worn down by winter storms and deemed unsafe.

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