Obama Transportation Appointees Like Speed Cameras, Tolls

The Newspaper
by The Newspaper
obama transportation appointees like speed cameras tolls

Candidate Barack Obama made few concrete statements on the subject of transportation during the 2008 campaign. Now that his cabinet has been sworn into office, President Obama has turned his attention to filling the lower-level positions that are frequently responsible for making major policy decisions. At the US Department of Transportation, these new appointees all share a love for speed cameras and toll roads—especially Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s new number two man. “With great pleasure I want to bid a hearty welcome aboard to our new Deputy Secretary, John Porcari,” LaHood wrote yesterday. “And, though he’s been on duty less than a week, he already has done some heavy lifting for us.”

Porcari, 50, was confirmed by the US Senate on May 22 and serves as the Transportation Department’s chief operating officer, overseeing day-to-day operations. Porcari has the formal administrative experience that LaHood lacks. Most recently, Porcari headed Maryland’s transportation agency where his main accomplishment was spearheading the effort to install speed cameras on every freeway in the state with fines of $2000 per ticket.

As late as April, Porcari was out defending the successful passage of legislation allowing speed cameras in “work zones” that have no workers. The legislature, however, opted for a significantly reduced fine from Porcari’s original proposal.

“Marylanders will be safer traveling our highways thanks to legislation authorizing speed cameras in construction work zones,” Porcari wrote in a letter to the Baltimore Sun newspaper. “And with clear signs offering advance warning of speed cameras, this will not be a matter of ‘gotcha.'”

Like his new boss, Porcari is also a major fan of imposing tolls on roads. So too is the newly confirmed Undersecretary for Transportation Policy, Roy Kienitz, 46. Kienitz was formerly the Deputy Chief of Staff for Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell (D) with responsibility over transportation issues.

Rendell credited Kienitz for the state legislation that would have allowed the imposition of tolls on Interstate 80 and sold the Pennsylvania Turnpike to a foreign toll road consortium. Both plans ultimately failed. Kienitz is also a board member for “Building America’s Future,” a group that lobbies on behalf of government officials to promote toll roads as infrastructure projects.

Such projects were what Peter H. Appel, 44, worked on for the consulting firm A.T. Kearney. The Senate confirmed Appel as Administrator of the DOT’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration on April 29. Appel’s former firm is one of many that stands to profit from the twenty-two percent overhead cost added to every tolling project.

“A.T. Kearney has a broad transportation client base, including railroads, airlines and airports, shipping lines, ports, motor carriers and toll roads,” the company explained in a summary of the areas in which it does business.

President Obama has also nominated Victor M. Mendez to be Administrator of Federal Highway Administration. Mendez, who awaits confirmation, was most recently the Director of the Arizona Department of Transportation where he coordinated state agencies and interest groups for the roll out of the state’s freeway speed camera program.

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  • Steven02 Steven02 on Jun 09, 2009
    johnthacker: But many of you are missing part of the point of toll roads. The point, agree or disagree, is also to reduce congestion on the particular road. A gas tax doesn’t do that; to the extent that a gas tax reduces congestion, it reduces it everywhere. And to a certain extent, a gas tax encourages people to live in denser areas, which can exacerbate congestion in urban areas. There’s an entirely different argument of whether widening the road would be sufficient to avoid congestion in those areas. In some areas it would be, but eventually you run up to practical limits in how wide an interstate can be. A gas tax hike is 100% the way to go. If congestion is a problem, more people will use public transportation, or not live in the areas that have all of the congestion. There is a toll road I could take to and from work which would save me 10-15 minutes one way. It would also cost about $1000 a year, and they are increasing rates. At about $4 a day (3 tolls each way), it will not save me a gallon of gas a day, or at current prices, more than a gallon of gas a day. If everyone paid more for gas, we would have more efficient cars, less pollution, and better roads all around. Toll roads are a rip off. While some of the money goes to the road, some to overhead, a lot is actually invested in other toll roads so that the toll authority can expand.

  • RichardD RichardD on Jun 09, 2009
    johnthacker : But many of you are missing part of the point of toll roads. The point, agree or disagree, is also to reduce congestion on the particular road. No it isn't. For those of us who haven't drunk the Kool-Aid -- provided free of charge by foundations underwritten by toll road companies -- the purpose of toll roads is obvious: 1. Private profit for the companies that run them. 2. Political benefit from the politicians who steal public land to build them. Don't get me wrong, I love private profit. But toll roads DEPEND on congestion to create profit. Namely, free roads must be miserable for toll roads to operate properly. Stop looking at the nice little tree and realize you're ruining the entire forest. Adam Smith figured this out around 1776 and has an entire chapter in the Wealth of Nations dedicated to the scam of toll roads and how the road maintenance stops the closer one gets to the expiration of the long-term contract. We're back to where we once were.

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