Increasing traffic congestion in major metropolitan areas is costing billions of dollars each year in lost productivity, wasted fuel, increasing air pollution and hours of delay. Adding new general purpose lanes is increasingly difficult because of factors such as construction costs, limited right-of-way, and environmental and societal concerns, so agencies are looking for solutions to improve the flow of traffic on existing facilities. One such solution is the concept of “managed lanes.” Through managed lanes, a variety of management tools and techniques (including include pricing, vehicle eligibility, and access control) are employed to improve freeway efficiency and to achieve optimal travel conditions. Examples of managed lanes include High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes, value-priced lanes (such as High-Occupancy Toll, or HOT lanes), and exclusive or special use lanes (such as express, bus-only, or truck-only lanes).
This study reviews the state of the practice and the state of the art in managed lanes in order to increase understanding of (1) what managed lanes are (2) how to plan for implementation (3) what operational and design issues should be considered, and (4) how active management of the lanes over the life of the facility affect its implementation. This study uses a case study approach, highlighting best practices and lessons learned from four managed lanes projects, including:
- State Route 91, California
- Interstate 15, San Diego
- I-10 and US 290, Houston (also known as the QuickRide program)
- New Jersey Turnpike
For the purposes of this study, the research team focused on state of the art facilities that utilize pricing, but also employ a combination of other basic managed lane operational strategies (i.e. vehicle eligibility and access control).
Managed lanes is a relatively new and complex concept to most travelers. Public understanding and acceptance are critical to the success of a managed lanes project. With value pricing, for example, effort needs to be made to educate the public about electronic toll collection, and the mobility benefits that the technology can provide. Public education and outreach can take different forms, including media coverage, surveys, and focus groups. Additionally, political champions who advocate on behalf of a project can help build public acceptance and can support any enabling legislation necessary for the managed lanes project. Both of the California projects, for example, had the benefit of strong political figures to act as champions.
Based on the experiences of the four case studies, the following set of lessons learned on public education and outreach was compiled:
- Engage in pre-project education. Agencies must build support for managed lanes projects prior to implementation through public education and outreach.
- Since the beginning of the SR91 project, California Private Transportation Company (CPTC) conducted extensive traveler surveys and focus groups regarding the pricing concept and traveler reaction to dynamic pricing. The findings from the data collection effort were used to develop materials for educating the public about the managed lanes project. The SR91 project also involved the media early on and benefited from the support of the political champions.
- In Houston, focus groups were used to gauge public attitudes toward value pricing so that an appropriate marketing strategy and public information plan could be developed.
- I-15 in San Diego also relied on extensive public outreach prior to changing the operations of the HOV lanes. Focus groups, surveys and interviews all helped in developing programmatic strategies for the facility.
- Market the specific project. Agencies must tailor their marketing to the specific project.
- San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) markets the I-15 Express lanes and the FasTrak program, offering an extensive incentive program to FasTrak account holders. Revenues generated by the project are used to support transit and HOV operations, and SANDAG keeps the public informed regarding these investments, so that the public is aware of the benefits of the project.
- The Express lanes on SR91 are also well marketed. In particular, Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) has made great efforts to publicize that SR91 is now owned by a public entity.
- Provide on-going public education. Once the project has been implemented, it is important to continue providing the public with information.
- OCTA maintains a website for the SR91 Express lanes that allows for on-line account applications and account maintenance. There is also a customer service center and an 800 number for customers' convenience. In addition, an advisory committee has been formed that includes representatives from several different transportation agencies and the general public. Based on the objectives of the project set by the community, the committee decides on future operational strategies and plans, as well as on the use of excess revenues.
- The New Jersey Turnpike also keeps the public informed through a website. Information about the turnpike and about the electronic toll collection program, EZ Pass, is provided.
- In San Diego, a website, a customer service center and an 800 number are used to provide the public with information about the project. In addition, ongoing traveler surveys are used to measure public attitudes.
- Provide driver information and signing on the facility. On the facility information must be provided to the driver in a manner that is easy to read and understand and with enough advance notification for the driver to make a decision.
- The SR91 Express lanes use changeable message signs to indicate the current toll prior to the entrance to the facility. The driver can then decide whether or not to enter the lanes.
Public education and outreach are critical to the success of the project. Such outreach efforts are necessary to build initial support for a project, as well as to sustain ongoing customer satisfaction. Public education and outreach must be tailored to the specific community, conveying the objectives of the project for that community and keeping the public informed on the project's performance and the benefits it provides.