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).
Value pricing refers to a system of fees or tolls that vary according to the level of congestion on a roadway facility. Higher tolls are usually charged when congestion is heaviest and delay is at its worst. In order to charge variable tolls, pricing operations must have the ability to assess the tolls electronically. Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) provides this capability through electronic toll collection (ETC). ETC enables the toll rate to be adjusted dynamically as conditions on the facility change. In addition, ITS enables another key component of value pricing, namely automated enforcement. The success of a value pricing strategy depends on the ability to protect the integrity of the managed lane facility, and automated enforcement technologies are critical in this regard.
Based on the case studies conducted in California, Texas and New Jersey, the following lessons learned are presented regarding operational issues associated with pricing.
- Plan for electronic toll collection. Electronic toll collection includes the use of transponders, the installation of technology on the facility that can "read" the transponder, and back office account administration. When a user opens an account and a transponder is issued, information about the user is entered into a database, so that the appropriate charge on the account can be made. In some cases, the user may supply financial information so that the account can automatically be replenished when funds are running low.
- I-15 employs dynamic tolling, whereby toll rates vary during the day based on traffic conditions. All users on the facility must be registered and must have a FastTrak account, including a transponder. The FastTrak account allows tolls to be collected electronically. When the transponder passes a reader, the information is transmitted to a central processing center, where the current toll rate is charged to the user’s account. If the reader does not detect a valid account, a light signals to the enforcement officers stationed at the tolling zone. Similarly, SR 91employs FasTrak, and all toll lane users must have an account and a transponder.
- Plan for enforcement. Enforcement is a critical component of managed lanes projects, and planning for enforcement should be incorporated at the outset when considering different management strategies. This includes the development of performance measures and the identification of acceptable violation rates for the facility. Enforcement on facilities that utilize both pricing and vehicle eligibility strategies must include toll account verification as well as vehicle eligibility verification. Technologies such as infrared occupancy detection, remote toll reading, and license plate capture are being tested and used in some instances, but more evaluation is needed. In addition, a further exploration of the legal issues associated with automated enforcement is required.
- SR91 uses automated enforcement for toll collection. When a reader cannot detect a tag or detects and invalid tag, it triggers a camera that takes a photo of the vehicle’s license plate. The license plate image is matched against the database records to determine if the motorist has a valid account. If there is no record of an account, state motor vehicle records are used to identify the driver, and then a citation is issued. The California Highway Patrol (CHP) also provides enforcement for occupancy, though visual inspection. Currently, there is no automated enforcement technology for vehicle eligibility, so enforcement must be conducted through visual inspection. Similarly on the I-15 Express lanes, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) provides enforcement. In addition, California has passed laws that provide stiff penalties and fines for violating the rules of managed lanes in the state.
- For the QuickRide Program, enforcement services are provided by Houston METRO (the transit authority), which has its own police department. Enforcement officers must verify occupancy, confirm that the vehicle has a transponder, and look for a QuickRide hangtag. At the time this report was issued, plans were underway to upgrade the enforcement technology in order to assist in toll accounts verification.
- For the projects in California and Houston, design elements of the facilities aid in enforcement. Each facility has positive barrier separation between the priced and unpriced lanes, and each has very limited access and egress points.
Through electronic toll collection and automated enforcement, ITS provides the critical infrastructure for implementing a value pricing strategy. Through electronic toll collection, tolls can be assessed dynamically based on travel conditions. Consequently, this technology enables the most efficient use of capacity on the facility. Moreover, electronic toll collection provides the customer with a seamless system for collecting the tolls. At the same time, enforcement is required to protect the integrity of the facility. To the extent that enforcement can be automated, this will create a more efficient system for monitoring the facility.
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