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).
As the case studies highlight, successful managed lanes projects have been the cooperative efforts of various agencies, starting from the initial stages of project development and including operations. In addition, managed lanes projects require comprehensive planning, including a consideration of legislative authority and institutional arrangements. The result of such cooperative efforts and planning is seamlessness to the customer.
Based on the experiences in California, New Jersey and Texas, the following lessons learned are offered with regard to the planning and coordination of managed lanes projects.
- Coordinate with other agencies. Managed lanes projects are generally large undertakings, often crossing jurisdictional boundaries, and thus require the cooperation of multiple agencies. Institutional roles and responsibilities should be identified and documented at the outset with project agreements that define each agency’s role. The agreements should also be flexible enough to allow for unforeseen circumstances.
- The QuickRide program in Houston, the I-15 Express lanes and SR91 Express lanes projects were undertaken as part of the Federal Highway Administration’s Value Pricing Pilot Program. Implementation of these projects required close coordination with FHWA, the departments of transportation and local agencies.
In addition, the case studies illustrate the importance of including as many stakeholders as possible in the process. Potential stakeholders include: transit agencies, regional transportation authorities, toll agencies, law enforcement personnel, Court personnel, environmental groups, special interest groups, and citizens.
- The QuickRide program, the I-15 Express lanes and SR91 projects involved a broad range of stakeholders in order to identify issues that may not have been addressed by the planners.
- Incorporate managed lanes projects in long-range planning. The pricing projects highlighted in this study were not initially developed out of a long-range plan for the community (in the case of the HOT lane projects in California and Texas, implementers had the benefit of having HOV as part of the long range plan). However, now that the projects have been in operation for a number of years, the agencies have been able to incorporate findings from their experiences into updated long-range plans.
- In the San Diego region, managed lanes and HOV improvements and expansion are important elements of their recent regional transportation plan, Mobility 2030.
- Engage in corridor planning. To date planners and engineers have relied on experience and careful monitoring of roadway conditions to develop an operational strategy for managed lane facilities. Traffic and revenue studies have provided insights on operations, and surveys and focus groups have been useful in providing information on travelers’ willingness to pay as well as their driving habits. However, the need exists for a more comprehensive tool to address the impacts of managed lanes design, access, and operational strategies on factors such as demand management, revenue generation, and air quality confirmation.
- Consider legislative authority. Using pricing as a lane management strategy may require the need for legislative changes at both the state and national levels, as tolling is not explicitly allowed on the interstate system. In addition, automated enforcement, a critical component of tolling, may require enabling legislation. Legislation also may facilitate the cooperation between local agencies, state agencies, regional transportation authorities, and private developers.
- Consider institutional arrangements. Since managed lanes projects may involve a variety of operational strategies, this will result in the involvement of a number of stakeholders, including transit authorities, toll authorities, and possibly private interests. New institutional agreements may be necessary to define the scope and operation of the project.
- With the SR91 project, for example, the construction and operation of the Express lanes by a private company (California Private Transportation Company, or CPTC), required new institutional arrangements. California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and local agencies worked with CPTC to develop a franchise agreement. CPTC designed and built the facility in the median of State Route 91 on right of way owned by the state. However, the non-compete clause written into the agreement (Caltrans was prohibited from making other improvements in the corridor that might reduce traffic in the toll lanes) resulted in frustration amongst all the stakeholders, including the public.
Planning for managed lanes projects requires input and coordinated planning from a number of stakeholders, including federal agencies, the state department of transportation, the metropolitan planning organization, and local agencies, among others. During the planning process, some of the key issues that need to be addressed include institutional arrangements and legislative authority. To the extent that these stakeholders can cooperate in the planning and implementation of the managed lanes project, the result will be a superior level of service offered to the public.