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The Urban Partnership Agreements and the Congestion Reduction Demonstration Programs

Separate from the Value Pricing Project Program, in May 2006, the DOT announced the National Strategy to Reduce Congestion on America's Transportation Network, also known as the "Congestion Initiative." The intent of the initiative was to demonstrate a variety of innovative but proven strategies that could provide relief to traffic gridlock if more widely practiced. The UPA/CRD programs resulting from the Congestion Initiative encouraged more aggressive broad-scale pricing approaches. In each program, multiple sites around the U.S. were awarded funding for implementation of congestion reduction strategies. In total for these two competitive programs, DOT awarded over three-quarters of a billion dollars in grants to six cities: Miami, Minneapolis/St. Paul, San Francisco, Seattle, Atlanta, and Los Angeles.

The UPA/CRD programs focused on using four complementary and synergistic strategies to relieve urban congestion: tolling, transit, telecommuting, and technology. For example, the Minnesota I-35 W project combined congestion pricing and active travel demand management to implement priced dynamic shoulders.3 As a result, the UPA/CRD programs represent successful collaboration between offices of several DOT agencies, including the FHWA Offices of Operations and Innovative Program Delivery, Federal Transit Administration, and the Office of the Secretary (OST) Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office (ITS JPO). The ITS JPO is responsible for the national evaluation that is assessing the impacts of the UPA/CRD projects in a comprehensive and systematic manner across all sites.

The following sections summarize some of the recent findings about the UPA/CRD projects. More information is available in the National Evaluation Reports, which will be available online soon.

CRD Project Deployed Since 2012

Express Lanes on I-10 and I-110 in Los Angeles, CA

The Los Angeles (LA) CRD Express Lanes Program seeks to reduce congestion, promote throughput, and enhance mobility in the I-10 and I-110 corridors and in downtown Los Angeles. Prior to the Express Lanes Program, the HOV lanes on I-10 and I-110 were experiencing challenges with operational degradation of the facilities. The original LA CRD proposal for converting the HOV lanes into HOT lanes included a plan to increase the occupancy requirement in order to provide excess lane capacity to sell to ineligible drivers. However, existing policies did not allow for changes to the occupancy requirement. Therefore, existing occupancy requirements were used during the pilot period. The LA CRD grant also awarded funding to several complimentary strategies, which support enhanced transit, technology and travel demand measures. The centerpieces of the LA CRD are the Express Lanes along the I-10 and I-110 freeways. The Express Lanes were intended to improve overall system performance in the two corridors by permitting toll-paying vehicles that do not meet the carpool occupancy requirements to use remaining HOT lane capacity on the I-10 and I-110 freeways. The I-110 Express Lanes span 11 miles and include two lanes in each direction of travel from the I-105 to Exposition Blvd. The I-10 Express Lanes span 14 miles and as part of the demonstration program, a second lane, covering 9 miles, was added from I-605 to I-710. During the demonstration period, all vehicles were required to pay to use the Express Lanes with the exception of publicly or privately operated transit vehicles, motorcycles, and multiple-occupant private vehicles (three or more occupants on I-10 during peak hours, two or more all other times; two or more occupants on I-110). The demonstration period concluded on February 24, 2014. The other LA CRD strategies deployed include major transit improvements: increase frequency of Metro bus rapid transit service through the acquisition of new clean fuel expansion buses; increased service; security upgrades; construction improvements along stations; additional capacity along park-and-ride lots; and implementation of transit priority system technology to facilitate Express Lanes traffic movement where I-110 enters downtown Los Angeles. Additionally, the intelligent parking management (LA Express Park), a variable and demand-based parking pricing system was deployed to reduce traffic congestion, reduce air pollution, and improve transit efficiency by reducing parking search times. Lastly, ridesharing promotional efforts are underway to increase the number of registered vanpools (with a goal of 100 new registered vanpools on the I-10 and I-110 corridors).

Preliminary evaluation results suggest that the LA CRD projects are accomplishing many of their goals and objectives. Consistent with other new HOV/HOT conversion projects, the congestion data analysis shows degradation in travel times and travel speeds performance during the initial deployment period on some portions of the I-10 and I-110. However, consistent with other sites, the same facilities are showing an upward trend in travel time reductions and increases in speed in the later portions of the pilot period. The tolling analysis findings indicate that the number of trips on the Express Lanes (by all groups) continued to increase over the course of the demonstration period, partially demonstrated by the increase in gross revenue from toll-paying vehicles. The many incentive programs proved to be successful with almost $13,000 in toll credits issued to Transit Rewards Program account holders and over $100,000 in toll/transponder credits issued to over 4,000 LA County households enrolled in the Equity Plan. In addition, the Express Lanes program surpassed several of its goals including enrolling over 100 new Metro-registered vanpools and issuing over 253,000 transponders by the end of the demonstration period.

Transit analysis findings indicate that Silver Line bus rapid transit line ridership increased largely due to CRD-funded services. The entire line (both I-110 and I-10) showed a 27 percent increase in monthly boarding after the new service was added with an additional 15 percent increase post-tolling. When surveyed, a third of new riders said they drove alone prior to the increased services and 48 percent of riders agreed that tolling has improved their travel.

Analysis also shows that I-10 Express Lane users experienced a 2-minute reduction in travel times during both the morning and evening commute periods. Travel times in the general-purpose lanes also declined by approximately 2 minutes during the morning commute, but increased by over 4 minutes during the evening commute in the post deployment period.

Updates on Previously Deployed UPA/CRD Projects

Variable Parking Pricing in San Francisco, CA

This project officially deployed in April 2011. Unlike its UPA/CRD peers, the San Francisco SFpark project focuses on managing on- and off-street parking in the city. It comprises two key components: providing better, real-time parking information (such as through applications on smart phones) and implementing demand-responsive pricing. In the project's eight pilot areas, parking sensors and meters with a credit card payment option were installed for 7,000 spaces. Meter pricing varies by time of day (3-hour increments) and by block. Rates can go up or down by 25 cents an hour, down by 50 cents an hour if a block is particularly empty, or remain unchanged. Average hourly rates have actually gone down by about 14 cents overall, and 17 percent of the SFpark meters have hourly rates of less than $1 – significantly less than rates at older meters in the city. In addition, there has been a 20 percent decrease in rates at San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA)-run parking garages.

An initial revenue evaluation of SFpark showed that more parking revenue is coming from meter payments rather than ticket payments in the pilot areas. Previously, about 45 percent of SFMTA's parking revenue came from citations, versus 20 percent at SFpark meters. This may suggest that the new credit card option has made payment easier, so customers are more likely to pay and avoid a parking citation. In addition, although increased revenue is not the primary goal of the project, the new meters are generating approximately 11 percent more net revenue than meters that were not upgraded. The SFpark is entering the evaluation phase. The final report will be completed in the fall of 2014.

As of January 2013, all parking meters allow payment by phone. Customers with smartphones that have Near Field Communications (NFC) payment capability can "tap" the meter to initiate streamlined payment. With about 29,000 meters throughout the city, this NFC deployment is one of the largest single NFC deployments in the United States.

In January 2014, SFpark announced its ninth demand responsive garage rate adjustment, in which 3 percent of all garage hourly rates decreased, 86 percent of all garage hourly rates remained the same, and 11 percent of all garage hourly rates increased. In February 14, the 13th on-street meter rate adjustment was announced. This adjustment decreased the rate by 25 cents or 50 cents during 8 percent of metered hours, 73 percent of metered hours stayed the same, and increased the rate by 25 cents during 19 percent of metered hours.

Full Facility Tolling on SR 520 in Seattle, WA

This UPA/CRD project is unique in that it comprises full facility pricing, which began December 29, 2011, on the existing four-lane SR 520 Bridge crossing Lake Washington. The facility is tolled by time of day, and toll revenue will generate funding to partially pay for the construction of the new SR 520 Floating Bridge. The project also includes electronic travel time signs on I-405, SR 520, and SR 522 directing drivers to the best route across Lake Washington; a "Smarter Highways" program on SR 520 and I-90 (a parallel route) that provides drivers with variable speed limits and real-time driver information; and more than 130 daily bus trips across the SR 520 Bridge.

Tolling on SR 520 is on track to generate the $1 billion in revenue needed to construct a new bridge, with nearly 21 million toll transactions in FY 2013. Monthly tolled trips continue to grow between 2 and 5 percent when compared to the same month in the previous year. Daily toll traffic volume meets or exceeds projected levels, and travel times are faster on average during peak periods. Drivers on SR 520 save an average of 5 minutes on their trip. Weekday traffic volumes on I-90 are about 14 percent higher, and peak period travel times are on average about 1 minute longer. Transit ridership on SR 520 has also increased. Before tolling began, King County Metro Transit and Sound Transit added 140 daily bus trips across SR 520, bringing weekday service to nearly 750 bus trips on 19 routes. As a result, weekday ridership has increased 12 percent since 2012 and 41 percent since 2010. Vanpools have also increased 40 percent.

The project team anticipates that traffic and revenue will continue to meet projections. Toll rates will increase in July 2014 as the third of four planned 2.5 percent annual rate increases through 2015.

Express Lanes on I-85 in Atlanta, GA

For this UPA/CRD project, an existing 16-miles of HOV2+ lanes on I-85, one in each direction, was converted to HOV3+ Express Lanes. The lanes operate 24/7, and carpools with three or more riders, buses, emergency vehicles, motorcycles, and vehicles with alternative-fuel vehicles license plates can use the lane for free, while single occupant drivers and two-person carpools pay a dynamically priced toll. In November 2013, weekday trips in the Express Lanes averaged 21,160, as opposed to 18,223 in November 2012. The number of registered "PeachPass" transponders has grown from approximately 75,000 before the lanes opened to over 268,000. With this growth in usage, the average daily toll has increased, from $1.35 in August 2012 to $1.72 in August 2013, and hitting a record high of $8 for the full trip during peak hour traffic in fall 2013. In addition, a 2013 survey showed 88 percent customer satisfaction with the Express Lanes after the first 12 months of operation.

Like the other UPA/CRD Express Lanes projects, the Atlanta project has a transit component, bringing online 36 new Xpress commuter coach buses and 2,200 new spaces in park-and-ride lots along I-85, as well as 45 new commuter coach buses and 5,000 spaces in park-and-ride lots in the remainder of the region. In May 2012, seven months after the start of tolling, riders were asked about the influence of the conversion of the HOV lane to an HOT lane on their decision to ride the bus. While only 13.5 percent of riders who had starting riding prior to tolling said they were influenced to take transit because of the conversion of the lane to tolling, 48.9 percent of riders who began transit after tolling said they were influenced.

Express Lanes on I-35W in Minneapolis/ St. Paul, MN

Building on the success of the MnPASS lanes already implemented on I-394 (previously funded under the VPPP), MnDOT pursued a UPA project to add MnPASS facilities to I-35W as well. The existing HOV lanes on I-35W from Burnsville Parkway to I-494 were extended, converted to Express Lanes, and opened in September 2009, and a 2-mile MnPASS extension south beyond the I-35E split opened in November 2010. The dynamically priced HOT lanes are in operation from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. in the northbound direction and from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the southbound direction. Carpools with two or more people, vanpools, buses, and motorcycles continue to use the lanes toll free. The MnDOT has the distinction of being the first agency in the country to operate a priced dynamic shoulder lane (PDSL), which is open to the same user groups as the HOT lanes. The PDSL operates northbound on I-35W from 46th Street to downtown Minneapolis during the same hours as the Express Lanes and reverts to a shoulder at other times. The facility now has nearly 2 years of performance data. On the southern portion of the project (Burnsville Parkway to I-494), there are nearly 3,500 toll paying customers per day.

From 42nd Street to downtown Minneapolis, the number of toll paying customers has grown to 4,614 per week or about 923 per day on average. Demand and revenue continue to grow on the MnPASS portion of the project. The average toll paid on the PDSL is $2.55. Drivers appear to understand messages when the shoulder is open or closed and violations have not been a significant problem. A detailed evaluation of the corridor has been completed as a component of the UPA.

The urban partners also initiated several transit-related improvements, including the addition of 27 new express buses on the Marquette and Second Avenue (Marq2) bus route, which features side-by-side bus-only lanes for faster trips through downtown, and traveler information technologies such as electronic messaging for bus arrival and park-and-ride space availability. A lane guidance system for shoulder-running buses was deployed on Cedar Avenue. The system includes lateral-guidance assistance, collision avoidance, and automatic vehicle location system technologies. There has been an 18 percent increase in ridership on the Marq2, and bus operating speeds have increased, resulting in 5-10 minutes in time savings. In addition, 2,347 new parking spaces were added at park-and-ride facilities. Use of the park-and-ride lots along I-35W South and Cedar Avenue increased by 641 vehicles from September 2009 and October 2011, and use of the lots along I-35W North increased by 48 vehicles over the same time period.

Another unique aspect of this UPA/CRD project is eWorkPlace, a teleworking program that encourages employers to offer their employees the option of working remotely. Over 4,000 employees and 48 employers had signed up as of June 2011, eliminating over 1,260 solo car trips per week.

Express Lanes on I-95 in Miami, FL

The Miami UPA/CRD project, also known as the "95 Express," used a phased approach to convert a single HOV lane in each direction into dual Express Lanes on 21 miles of I-95 from Fort Lauderdale to downtown Miami. The project was implemented under two construction contracts in three phases. In December 2008, the northbound direction of the southern segment of the Express Lanes project (from downtown Miami to Golden Glades) opened to traffic, and the southbound direction of the same segment opened in early January 2010. The northern segment from Golden Glades to I-595 opened in 2012. The scope of the 95 Express project extends beyond the conversion of HOV to Express Lanes. It also includes improved ITS monitoring and incident management capabilities, ramp metering, and bottleneck elimination. There is a significant transit component to the project as well: 23 new express buses were added, and three new BRT routes were added in January 2010.

Since opening, the 95 Express has had a dramatic, positive effect on travel in South Florida. The tolling, transit, travel demand management and technology strategies have increased travel speeds by 200 percent in the local lanes and by 300 percent in the Express Lanes, while increasing transit usage by 286 percent since launch. Through March 31, 2014, 95 Express serviced 5.8 million trips in 2014, bringing the total since initial opening, December 5, 2008, to 94.1 million trips. Total revenue through March 31, 2014 was $5.8 million for the year, bringing the total revenue to date to approximately $77 million. The total number of registered toll exempt vehicles, e.g., carpool, vanpool, buses & hybrids was 9,109, resulting in approximately 137,000 toll exempt trips for 2014.

The most recent construction phase for 95 Express began in November 2011 and will last until spring 2015. This will extend the existing Express Lanes north from the Golden Glades Interchange, in Miami-Dade County, to Broward Boulevard, in Broward County, by converting existing HOV lanes into two Express Lanes in each direction.

The UPA/CRD Lessons Learned Since 2012

The LA Metro deployed the final UPA/CRD project in February 2013. The LA partners then collected a year of post-deployment data. The evaluation team is in the process of preparing final reports for the SFpark and LA Metro projects. Once these final reports are completed, the evaluation team will prepare a crosscutting report that represents lessons learned from the six UPA/CRD project sites. While that process will not be complete until next year, the evaluation team and project partners offered some initial lessons learned provided below:

  • Outreach is important to shifting people's thinking.
  • A variable toll can manage demand during the peak period.
  • Investing in transit on a priced managed lane leads to significant growth in transit ridership.
  • On-going construction can have an impact on data collected.
  • The quality and quantity of data collected makes a difference. For example, 1 year of post deployment data may not be enough to draw long-term conclusions (one example is that typically, experts rely on 3-5 years of data to allow them to identify trends critical to determining safety performance on a facility.
  • Successful operations can lead to public support of Express Lane projects in other corridors.
  • Enforcement remains a challenge.

3 Priced dynamic shoulders on I-35 west allow transit and carpools use the shoulder for free and MnPASS customers can use the shoulder for a fee. The left shoulder is open to traffic, with overhead sign gantries indicating its operational status. When the general purpose lanes become congested, the shoulder is opened and the speed limit on the general purpose lanes is reduced. [ Return to note 3. ]

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