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Report on the Value Pricing Pilot Program Through April 2012

Progression Beyond VPPP and UPA/CRD: How the VPPP Has Helped Advance Congestion Pricing in the United States

During the past 3 years, there has been a clear trend among VPPP project partners in progressing from their original pricing projects to much more aggressive pricing projects and programs. In some cases, States made it clear from the outset of their grant projects that the initial project to be implemented (the majority of which have been HOV to HOT conversions) was a "'pilot" and could be discontinued if not successful or acceptable. In other cases, the lead project represented the most practical opportunity to introduce variable pricing to the region.

"The FHWA VPPP program, planning grants, and UPA grants have been enormously valuable in advancing congestion pricing projects in the Washington D.C. region."

— Ron Kirby, Director,
Department of Transportation Planning, MWCOG

One of the most encouraging developments in the past 3 years in congestion pricing has been significant "intermediate" steps toward full-scale system pricing. Several metropolitan areas have established very aggressive system-wide pricing and comprehensive managed lane systems in their long range plans. Some of these systems are variants of HOT lane networks while others are express toll lane systems, but all involve variable tolling of 250 to 800 lane-miles of specific lanes on these facilities.

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) has been actively involved in the Washington, DC region's history with congestion pricing, which includes HOT lane strategies as well as toll lanes and has commenced work on a recent grant for the public acceptability study. They have found that the region needs to look at "bundles" of strategies — pricing needs to be combined with other benefits to drivers to deliver a "value proposition" — e.g., not congestion reduction, but greater reliability and better quality of life.

Managed Lane System Plans

The MTC approved a very extensive Express Lane Network originally in 2009. Recent revisions in the plan would incorporate 280 lane-miles of existing HOV lanes, converted to HOT lanes, with 290 lane-miles of new HOT lanes added to key existing freeways and bridges in the San Francisco Bay region.(17) This system would provide a congestion-free trip to virtually any part of the region for those willing to pay and would provide a huge time-savings incentive to use transit or carpooling. Transportation modeling shows that this system approach, if properly designed, would yield much greater benefits than the sum of benefits of individual HOV or HOT segments due to time savings available for the whole trip. A few segments of this system are already in operation with many more in the planning and design stages. These HOT lanes, as well as the existing HOV lanes are operated by multiple local transportation agencies on State and Interstate highways. The Alameda County Transportation Authority has operated the I-680 Smart Carpool lanes for a few years and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority recently opened the 237/880 HOT Connector. Tolling policy and operations are handled by an arm of the MTC while Caltrans has authority over most of the roadways involved.

Incorporating all of these individual segments into a cohesive system will be no easy task. They operate under a variety of policies and conditions that would all need to be at least compatible, if not fully uniform. For instance, some of the facilities are already heavily congested in the peak periods, allowing two person carpools while others are underutilized at all times. They have operating hours that vary from 24/7 to any combination of times and peak direction usage, all to best meet the needs of local traffic conditions. In order to maximize the benefits of the system, the experience for the driver would need to be a "seamless" trip where the operating rules are compatible and easily understood from one segment to the next.

"VPPP grant funding as well as the technical support from the team were essential in the implementation of the I-25 HOT lane conversion project. The funding helped elevate the project to get the attention of local and state decisionmakers and the technology transfer efforts provided by the VPPP team allowed us to learn from successes and failures of previous projects. The High Performance Transportation Enterprise has an extensive program to expand variable tolling in Colorado, building upon successes of that original project."

— Myron Swisher,
former Colorado DOT Project Manager

The recently established High Performance Transportation Enterprise (Colorado DOT’s tolling arm) is following a similar path toward an express toll lane system. Its original I-25 HOT lane conversion has successfully introduced the congestion pricing concept to the region and is the basis for two upcoming projects that will connect to that project at its north end. Several other segments throughout the Denver region have been studied for feasibility as HOT lanes and are part of the long range vision as parts of that system.

The Georgia DOT (GDOT) and its tolling partner State Road and Tollway Authority opened the I-85 Express Lanes in 2011 as part of FHWA's CRD program (see page 28 for details). This converted HOV lane segment is envisioned to be the first of an extensive system. The GDOT's Managed Lanes System Plan is adopted in the region's lon grange transportation plan. Dallas/Fort Worth, Washington, DC, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Seattle, Denver, Miami, Charlotte, and Los Angeles are among several other metropolitan regions nationwide that are taking the managed lane system approach in order to ensure sustainable and reliable travel times far into the future.

System-wide Pricing – Seattle Region

The PSRC adopted the Transportation 2040 Plan in May 2010, which states that all roadways in the regions will be priced by 2040. The General Assembly voted (98 percent in favor) for some system of charging for use of all existing highways (tolled and non-tolled) in order to finance their transportation program. This groundbreaking, politically bold, formally adopted regional policy did not occur simply as a result of reading reports of programs implemented in Europe and Asia.

The Seattle region has been a leader in cutting edge congestion management strategies over the past 2 decades, including congestion pricing. The WSDOT and its partner transportation agencies have received grant funding for several VPPP projects and studies since the late 1990s. The SR 167 HOT lane conversion project, which opened in 2008, served successfully as an "entry-level" congestion pricing project for the region to experience first-hand. That project, coupled with VPPP planning studies on various aspects of congestion pricing, have laid the groundwork for much more aggressive projects that are in the planning or design stages or are in the early implementation period. The I-405 HOT lanes plan will construct a major element of the region’s managed lane network.

The SR 520 project (under the UPA program) started tolling the existing facility for the purpose of managing traffic and raising revenue for the replacement bridge. This project employs variable pricing and represents the first facility in the nation to assess a toll on a previously toll free facility. This is a major step forward in the U.S. for aggressive congestion pricing strategies that have a significant impact on urban traffic congestion. It represents the culmination of a decade-long program to study and experiment with "entry level" congestion pricing strategies, slowly building toward transformation of the entire transportation system. The rest of the Nation is taking notice of these successes in the Puget Sound Region, which is the objective of pilot programs such as VPPP.

Second Generation Variable Tolling Projects

Another major progression has involved second generation variable tolling projects. Regions that have implemented relatively simple HOT lane conversion projects over the past decade or so have found them to be so successful that they have expanded the concept to take advantage of a strong synergy between road pricing and transit.

The SANDAG opened its first HOT lane conversion project on I-15 in 1996, using grant funding and support from the VPPP. It proved to be a fertile testing ground for many congestion pricing concepts as well as a live "laboratory" to observe traveler behavior in response to variable pricing. Many other States and regions, then in the concept development and planning stages, were observing very closely to see how the public would respond to hot button issues facing the fledgling industry, such as privacy, equity, preserving transit travel speeds, and technology. The success of that simple HOT lane conversion project was instrumental in the expansion and extension of the concept to implementation of a major BRT corridor. The region found, through experimentation with the original I-15 HOT lane, that there was great potential synergy between congestion pricing and BRT to provide the most effective and efficient major transit improvement for that corridor. The SANDAG has a major managed lane network defined in its long-range plan and is underway on design and planning on key corridors.

In 1984, the HOV lane on the I-10 Katy Freeway first opened to vans and buses only. In 1986, the lane opened to carpools of two of more people. In 1998, due to congestion, the HOV occupancy was raised to three or more people during peak hours. At this time, a program called Quick Ride was implemented that allowed two person carpools to continue to use the lane during peak periods for a $2.00 toll. Although this HOT lane moved at free flow speed, traffic continued to increase in the general lanes. The freeway was then expanded to eight general purpose lanes, four in each direction, with continuous three-lane frontage roads in each direction. Additionally, in the center of the facility from I-610 west to State Highway 6, four HOT lanes operate, two in each direction, and from State Highway 6 to the Grand Parkway, two HOT lanes operate, one in each direction. The I-10 managed lanes project was a partnership of Harris County Toll Road Authority, Texas DOT, and Harris County Metropolitan Transit Authority. The Katy Freeway HOT Lanes project did not receive Value Pricing funds; however, the project obtained the authority to toll through the Value Pricing Program in 2002. Tolling operations began on the Managed Lanes on April 18, 2009.

LBJ Express Project on I-35E and I-635 in Dallas, Texas

The LBJ express project represents a culmination of over 2 decades of studies. It developed out of the LBJ Corridor study, which began in 1987. A major investment study of the corridor was completed in 1996, which established a locally preferred alternative (LPA) construction solutions to meet four goals in the corridor: enhanced mobility and safety; flexible response to changing traffic patterns; improvements to the community; and cost-effectiveness. The LPA received full local and regional consensus support and was adopted into the NCTCOG Regional Transportation Plan, Mobility 2020.

"Texas has benefited greatly from the VPPP and related programs. Not all have operational priced projects but all have permission to go forward. Permission to toll on the interstate system is more important than money provided by the programs."

— Matthew MacGregor,,
Texas DOT

In addition, NCTCOG, in partnership with Dallas Area Rapid Transit, Texas DOT, and regional transportation partners, conducted a review of value pricing concepts for the Dallas/Fort Worth Region culminating the 2005 Regional Value Pricing Corridor Evaluation and Feasibility Study. This study identified candidates for short- and long- term value pricing demonstration projects, including potential managed facilitates. The results of this study were incorporated into the ongoing LBJ Corridor Study and contributed to its eventual approval and planning recommendations.

The LPA laid the groundwork for the current LBJ Express Project, construction on which began in January 2011. The project will nearly double the capacity on the LBJ Freeway while providing commuters with more travel options. Under this project, 17 miles of eight existing general purpose lanes on I-35E and I-635 will be reconstructed. In addition, 13 miles of new express toll lanes will be added to the route, two lanes each direction on I-35E, and up to three lanes in each direction on I-635. The express lanes on I-635 will be sub-surface lanes. The express lanes will maintain a guaranteed speed of 50 mph. In addition, two- and three-lane continuous frontage will be added for better access to the roadway.

17 Metropolitan Transportation Commission, "Express Lane Expansion Proposal Moves Forward," October 27, 2011, http://www.mtc.ca.gov/news/current_topics/9-11/express_lanes.htm.

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