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MANAGED LANES: A Cross-Cutting Study

Chapter Five. Recommended Practices and Lessons Learned

In this chapter the study team has documented several key areas in which lessons have been learned from the case study projects. Challenges and opportunities that were encountered in the case studies are also identified.

Clear Objectives and Vision

Managed lanes projects must have clear objectives and a vision of how to achieve the objectives in order to measure success. Seemingly all transportation agencies have a goal of reducing congestion for the entire population. This contributes to an improved quality of life. An agency may achieve this objective through different means. A successful managed lanes project has clearly defined objectives and the mechanism for achieving the objectives. For example, the New Jersey Turnpike established a vision of a controlled access facility at its inception. The SR 91 Express lanes sought to provide congestion relief to a severely congested corridor by adding additional capacity. An objective for QuickRide and the I-15 Express lanes was to better utilize the HOV lanes and pricing was a way to achieve this goal.

Action and Opportunity

Most of the currently operating managed lanes projects have been the result of agencies taking advantage of opportunities, whether they are a funding source or the availability of right-of-way or underutilized capacity. The SR 91 Express lanes took advantage of new legislation that allowed for tolling and private contributions. This allowed Caltrans and the local agencies to capitalize on an opportunity that had not been available before.

Likewise, other agencies such as SANDAG and Houston METRO have been proactive in identifying weakness in various operating strategies and altering those strategies to maximize the efficiency of the system based on clearly defined performance measures.


The currently operating projects in Houston and San Diego were implemented on existing facilities. Both facilities were designed as barrier-separated HOV lanes, which limited the ability to alter operating strategies as conditions in the corridor change. Both of these facilities have adapted to the conditions and the projects are successful. The SR 91 and I-15 Express lanes are facilities that do not offer intermediate access and thus serve long-distance trips. The New Jersey Turnpike was designed to serve even longer trips and as such ramp spacing distances are very long. The Katy Freeway and the Northwest Freeway both have limited at-grade access. However, as more managed lane projects are proposed and developed and current ones are expanded, the design of the facility is key to accommodating a flexible operating strategy.

For instance, the proposed expansions on the I-15 Express lanes and the Katy Freeway are each considering multiple access points. This presents challenges for design, user information, and enforcement but also allows for a more robust management strategy. Consideration can now be made for distance-based tolling and point of access tolling in addition to time of day pricing, which allows the operating agency to more effectively manage the facility.

Additionally, the New Jersey Turnpike has been designed for effective management by using controlled access gates that allow for sections to be opened or closed as conditions warrant. Moreover, each access point in the dual-dual section of the roadway has independent ramps with long spacing.

Agency Cooperation

Managed lanes projects are often large undertakings that cross jurisdictional boundaries, making agency cooperation crucial. Institutional roles and responsibilities should be identified early in the planning process and documented with project agreements that define each agency's role in project implementation. The agreements should also provide flexibility for unforeseen circumstances.

Similarly, the public must be assured that public agencies are protecting the interest of the public. The privatization of the SR 91 Express lanes and the non-compete clause created public mistrust because the public did not feel that Caltrans was diligently protecting the public's best interest. The legal battles waged by various parties exacerbated the problem. Clearly defined policies and expectations of each agency from the project outset may minimize any misconceptions between the parties.

The QuickRide program requires the cooperation of the state department of transportation and the transit authority. This program had the advantage of existing institutional arrangements that stemmed from the operation of the HOV system. Projects may benefit by utilizing existing agreements that work well and adapting those to meet the needs of the managed facility.

An important result of agency cooperation is seamlessness to the customer. In managed lane projects where pricing is employed agency cooperation has allowed for a superior level of service to be provided to the motorists. Interagency agreements and interoperability standards and requirements on California toll facilities greatly enhance the ease of travel for motorists.

Public Education and Outreach

Managed lanes is a new and complex concept to most travelers. Public understanding and acceptance of a project is critical not only to individual projects but also to any expansion into a system. CPTC conducted extensive public opinion research prior to constructing the SR 91 Express lanes and the research indicated that the public was accepting of the pricing concept. Yet, the public did not have an understanding of the private development agreement between CPTC and the state. The result was confusion and mistrust by the public. In this case, the public was asked to accept a new concept, i.e. pricing and to accept the notion of a private developer providing what is traditionally a public service.

The I-15 Express lanes outreach clearly identified the project objectives to the public and demonstrated how SANDAG would achieve the objectives. Additionally, successes of the project are promoted. This enables travelers in the corridor to readily see project benefits.

Both of the California projects had the benefit of strong political figures to act as champions. Local officials as well as state officials recognized managed lanes as an opportunity to maximize efficiency of the transportation system that otherwise may not have occurred. Success of future projects will depend on a broader understanding of the benefits of a multi-modal system wide approach.

On the contrary, political opposition and lack of public understanding may kill a worthwhile project. The public, as well as key officials, must understand the circumstances in which managed lanes may provide a workable solution to problems of congestion or other lane management needs.

Barriers to Implementation

Many obstacles had to be overcome in implementing the currently operating managed lane projects. New and unfamiliar agreements had to be forged amongst various agencies and, in the case of SR 91, with a private company. Each of the challenges were addressed and allowed the projects to move forward.


A thorough understanding of corridor characteristics is imperative to managed lane success. In order for pricing to be feasible it must offer a service superior to the adjacent general-purpose lanes. This means there must be serious congestion on a facility without viable alternate routes. The public must understand the operational characteristics of this situation and the public may need to be educated on transportation funding and shortfalls. The equity of pricing may also need to be addressed.

The project sponsors on the SR 91 express lanes relied on extensive traveler surveys and public attitude surveys to assess the conditions that existed in the corridor prior to project implementation.


Design elements including access treatments impact project feasibility. The currently operating pricing projects are very limited access facilities that primarily serve through trips and act as express lanes. This makes designing for enforcement and tolling areas easier. As more and more management strategies are analyzed and multiple access points are considered the design implications become much more complex.

Positive separation is used each in of the operating managed lanes projects. This is important because of the different operating characteristics that may occur on adjacent general-purpose lanes. As more projects are developed lane separation techniques must be carefully considered in the design phase of project development.


Enforcement is paramount to protecting the integrity of a managed lane facility. Enforcement on facilities that use both pricing and vehicle eligibility has two compliance tasks: toll account verification and vehicle eligibility verification (usually based on occupancy). Technology is available to address account verification but preferential vehicle verification is usually performed by visual inspection.

The state of California has passed laws that provide for stiff penalties and fines for violating the rules of managed lanes in the state (Exhibit 24). The I-15 Express lanes have a violation rate of less than five percent. The laws provide fines for both HOV lane violations as well as non-payment of tolls. Enabling legislation is an important factor in the enforcement of a facility.

State of California HOV violation sign indicating a minimum fine of $271.00
Exhibit 24. HOV Violation Sign.

As more complex projects are developed planning and designing for enforcement must be incorporated when considering different operating strategies. Specific performance measures and acceptable violation rates should be identified. Conversely, if a facility is not stringently enforced high violation rates should be expected.

Outlook for Future Implementation

The "first generation" managed lanes projects reviewed for this study are characterized by straightforward pricing applications, consistent vehicle eligibility requirements, and limited ingress and egress points. Next generation projects moving toward implementation are envisioned to operate with more complex pricing schemes, potential variations in eligibility by time periods, and multiple access points. Two of the "second generation" projects are described below, along with the emerging issues involved with implementation of more complex managed lane facilities.


The managed lane concept has been included in the regional transportation plan that was recently adopted. The plan calls for studying managed lanes on several facilities in the area. Currently, the project partners are working together to expand the I-15 HOT lanes currently in operation to a more robust managed lanes facility.

The ultimate design of the facility will add two additional express lanes to the current eight-mile facility. It will extend these lanes for another 12 miles. The proposed cross section includes a moveable barrier in the median to allow for three lanes to travel in the peak direction (see Exhibit 25). The facility will be barrier separated from the mainlanes but will include multiple intermediate access points including direct access for transit and HOVs. A significant component of the managed lanes plan is a Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) that will allow express buses direct access to the facility from park-and-ride lots within the corridor.

Consultants are still evaluating various operational strategies, including dynamic pricing, distance-based pricing, dynamic distance-based pricing, pricing according to access point, and numerous other scenarios. When implemented, this facility will truly be managed relative to very specific project objectives. Flexibility is being built into the planning and programming of the facility to allow for operations to be adjusted to meet the changing needs of the traveling public in the corridor.

schematic drawing of the proposed I-15 managed lanes
Exhibit 25. Proposed I-15 Managed Lanes Design (14).


Like I-15 in San Diego there are plans to expand the Katy Freeway to a multiple-lane managed facility. The facility will be reconstructed and expanded to include four special use lanes. The proposed cross section is shown in Exhibit 26. The exact details of how the lanes will operate have not been finalized, but pricing and occupancy will both be used to manage demand and ensure that the facility operates at free flow conditions. The project is being undertaken cooperatively by Houston METRO, TxDOT, FHWA, and the Harris County Toll Road Authority (HCTRA). HCTRA is contributing to the financing of the project and will operate the special use lanes. Travel on the lanes will require a toll but buses and HOVs will be given preferential treatment by way of free or discounted travel, direct connections, and other support facilities.

drawing of the proposed Katy freeway expansion showing four general purpose lanes in each direction and two managed lanes in each direction in the median for a total of four managed lanes
Exhibit 26. Proposed Cross-section for Katy Freeway (15).

Emerging Issues and Knowledge Gaps


Funding shortfalls in transportation are forcing more agencies to look at pricing and tolling as a mechanism to raise revenue. Clearly, the SR 91 Express lanes were developed as a result of funding issues. More and more politicians are viewing lane management with pricing as a viable alternative to expensive capacity expansion projects. Pricing on managed lanes is also a means to get projects implemented more quickly, as was also the case with the SR 91 Express lanes.

Moreover, more and more elected officials are heralding pricing as a way to finance additional capacity. Legislation is being proposed that would use variable tolls in an effort to manage demand and the tolls would finance the capital costs of the added capacity. The issue arises when payments on the facility are complete. If the variable tolls are removed when the facility is paid for, the ability to use price to manage demand is also removed. If such legislation is enacted, research will need to assess the ramifications of such a policy.

Communities must also reconcile revenue generation potential with the ultimate desires of the community and objectives for a particular project. If increasing person movement on a facility is the objective and HOV preference is given by way of reduced tolls, then the revenue generation potential will be diminished. Exhibit 27 illustrates the difference in costs versus revenue between a for-profit project, SR 91 Express lanes and a project with HOV priority, I-15 Express lanes (16).

Another important issue affecting revenue generation is ownership of the project. Private involvement in a public works project may require additional public education. The private enterprise should be fairly compensated for its investment in a public project; however, the public may only be willing to tolerate a certain amount of profit-making on a public good. Future project agreements will need to assess the public's willingness to accept private investment and the trade-offs that may be required. Additionally, these agreements may be structured to provide maximum caps on profits ensuring the public that investors are not price-gouging.

Nevertheless, the potential for revenue generation in a managed lanes project may provide an opportunity to public agencies that previously was not available. Pricing may provide the necessary means to cover capital and/or operating costs. It may also allow projects to be implemented sooner than would have otherwise been possible. Careful analysis and community consensus will be needed to balance revenue generation with other project objectives.

Exhibit 27. Costs vs. Revenue for HOV Priority and For-Profit Facilities (17).
  I-15 Conversion from HOV to HOT SR 91 Express Lanes
Number of tolled lanes 2 4
Total Daily Traffic
  • Tolled - full price
  • Tolled - discount
  • Exempt

22,400 (2003)

  • 5,600 (2003)
  • -------
  • 16,800 (2003)

33,000 (1999)

  • 29,000 (1999)
  • 4000 (1999)
  • -------
Operating Expenses $ 1 million/year $ 10 million/year
Bus Service Expense $ 1 million/year -------
Revenue $ 2 million/year $ 30 million/year


Using pricing as a lane management strategy may require the need for legislative changes at both state and national levels. Currently, tolling is not explicitly allowed on the interstate system. Automated enforcement may also require enabling legislation. Additionally, legislation may facilitate the cooperation between local agencies, state agencies, transit agencies, regional transportation authorities and private developers.

Political support of a project is a necessary component of project implementation. This support will also hasten changes in legislation that would support managed lane projects.

A synthesis of issues from agency perspectives will allow agencies to learn from previous agreements. Preparation of document templates used for operating projects will be useful in drafting legal and functional agreements between and among participating entities that address fiscal, technical and liability risks and responsibilities.


Once project planners have the legislative authority necessary to administer a pricing program and there is a broad understanding of the objectives of a particular project, it may be necessary to forge new relationships with partners not previously involved. As noted earlier, managed lanes projects may encompass a number of different operating strategies. This will bring more players to the table, including transit authorities, toll authorities, and private interests. Most likely, there will also be a need to bring entities that can offer additional financing options. For these reasons, it may be necessary to identify successful institutional agreements that have been negotiated on international projects. The United States has very limited experience with private party participation in transportation projects. A review of best practices will aid in structuring these new agreements and fostering a collaborative approach.


Most of the managed lane projects operating today are the result of agencies taking advantage of available opportunities. Most did not have the benefit of having managed lanes included in the long-range regional transportation plans. Additionally, the HOT lane projects operating today each have very limited access points and typically operate based on a simple strategy. Therefore, extensive technical analysis of various operating scenarios was not performed prior to implementation.

Traffic and revenue studies are conducted to satisfy investment requirements and bond indentures. However, these studies are often conducted after basic project parameters are defined. 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 conformity. Development of these tools and techniques will allow agencies to incorporate managed lanes into the long-range planning process. Not only will this produce a more meaningful and useful long-range plan it will also enable planning personnel to analyze the connectivity of the managed lanes facility with other types of systems such as HOV lanes, arterial streets, toll roads and free roads.


Stringent enforcement protects the integrity of the facility. The advancement of electronic toll collection technology has aided the use of pricing as a management tool; however, occupancy enforcement technology has not made as many significant advances. Moreover, when multiple operating strategies are employed on a facility, enforcement becomes increasingly complex.

Automated technologies are being explored and these new tools will aid in enforcing a facility. 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 before there is widespread use. Furthermore, legislation is needed in several states to make automated enforcement legal.

A need exists for a synthesis of the current state-of-the-practice for determining vehicle occupancy. This information would allow for an assessment of the applicability of these systems to managed lanes that vary eligibility or cost to use the lane throughout the day based on conditions in the corridor. It is also important to test the public's acceptance of such technology and the ability of such technology to be admitted as evidence in court.

Because automated technology is not sufficiently reliable or legal at this time, enforcement, especially for occupancy, is performed visually by law enforcement personnel. For this reason, ongoing training and education of personnel charged with enforcing a managed lanes facility and education within the court system on the effects of effective enforcement and the repercussions associated with non-enforcement, are both critical, on-going needs.


Many agencies establish operating thresholds for HOV lanes. Currently there is no uniform standard for managed lanes operations and to a certain extent the thresholds will be based on the objectives of the project as well as design elements such as cross section, location of access points, and bottlenecks. However, a need exists to apply standards to managed lanes much like standards are applied to freeway operations. A review of existing measures of effectiveness can identify which are applicable to managed lanes. New measures can be developed as projects evolve.


The design flexibility of the facility greatly impacts the operating scenarios available to facility operators. Design flexibility must consider potential changes to user groups or varying tolls based on user groups. Additional management techniques such as distance-based charging, charging based on a access point, or a combination of techniques will present more challenges in designing a facility that can accommodate various operational strategies. More complex operational scenarios will have to consider multiple tolling and enforcement zones.

Topics related to design flexibility that require further research are safe lane separation and access. The use of concrete barriers has enhanced safety and aided enforcement on HOV lanes and HOT lanes as well as the dual-dual roadway portion of the New Jersey Turnpike. However, this has also been a limitation in altering operating strategies. The determination of access points is also impacted by the flexibility of the facility design. Decisions on lane separation technique and ingress and egress from the facility will need to be explored in the planning phase of the project.


The managed lanes projects coming on line now are part of a "next generation" of projects that are much more complex in their operations. Not only are the operating strategies themselves more complex, the operators are proposing to vary the operating strategy depending on conditions in the corridor. This is true in both the short-term operations but also over time.

It is important that operators of these facilities have the authority to alter operations over time. This may require policy objectives that are codified by law to prevent changing political climates from impacting operational flexibility. Additionally, potential conflicts between federal and state agencies should be identified and remedies put forth at the inception of the project that will ensure flexibility over time.


Currently operating managed lanes facilities employ a number of techniques to provide drivers with information. Dynamic message signs alert drivers to conditions on the roadway as well as current toll rates, enabling the driver to make an informed decision. Websites now contain published toll schedules and toll rate calculators to allow the driver to map his preferred route. Variable speed limits are also being used to communicate roadway conditions to drivers. Variable speed limits have been used successful to warn motorists of weather conditions and have shown promise in their usefulness in improving traffic flow. More research and testing is needed in the United States for the applicability of variable speed limits to operate in response to congestion.

Many lane management strategies are used in tandem with one another. This results in the need to deliver an array of information to the driver. Information must be conveyed in a manner that is easy for the driver to read and understand, and with enough advance notification for the driver to make a decision, and safely maneuver to the desired location. The SR 91 Express lanes are the simplest plan operating. A changeable message sign indicates the current toll prior to the entrance to the facility. A driver may then use that information to choose whether or not to enter the lanes. The scenario is more complicated on the I-15 Express lanes where the tolls may change as often as every six minutes. The QuickRide program has a set toll rate but the occupancy requirements change relative to the time of day.

Research is needed to determine the most effective way for communicating information to the motorists while maintaining safe operations on the roadway. The projects currently being planned involve multiple agencies, a greater number of access points and a more varied group of users. Information that has to be communicated may include:


In order to fully understand the benefits and impacts of priced lanes, the lanes need to be evaluated in conjunction with other strategies, not alone, to ensure effectiveness. Evaluation tools are needed to estimate the impacts of combined strategies and to evaluate the combined strategies against conventional strategies. Missing in the managed lanes experience to date is the initiation of these projects through the regional planning process. Most were developed at the facility level to take advantage of a specific opportunity. MPOs and other transportation agencies are only beginning to identified ways to incorporate managed lanes into regional strategic planning network (e.g., MPO 20-year regional transportation plan), system planning (e.g., 20 to 50 year freeway network plan for a region), or corridor planning. Several MPOs, including SANDAG and NCTCOG in Dallas/Fort Worth, have recently begun incorporating managed lanes into regional plans.

In order to fully understand the benefits and impacts of priced lanes, the lanes need to be evaluated in conjunction with other strategies, not alone, to ensure effectiveness. Evaluation tools are needed to estimate the impacts of combined strategies and to evaluate the combined strategies against conventional strategies. Missing in the managed lanes experience to date is the initiation of these projects through the regional planning process. Most were developed at the facility level to take advantage of a specific opportunity. MPOs and other transportation agencies are only beginning to identified ways to incorporate managed lanes into regional strategic planning network (e.g., MPO 20-year regional transportation plan), system planning (e.g., 20 to 50 year freeway network plan for a region), or corridor planning. Several MPOs, including SANDAG and NCTCOG in Dallas/Fort Worth, have recently begun incorporating managed lanes into regional plans.

To facilitate multimodal operations, simple understandable measures need to be used for the purpose of comparing strategies. In addition, an effort to promote public understanding of the alternatives' benefits and costs is important.


The case study projects have indicated that technology has not been a concern. It is generally believed that technology will not limit long-term applications as the software and/or hardware can be developed. In applications of technology demonstrated to date, it appears that managed lane design will not be significantly influenced by emerging technologies. With the development of standards for dedicated short range communications (DSRC), specifically related to the 5.9 GHz band, the implications for integration of ITS and toll collection will further support proactive operation of managed lane facilities. However, in short term applications, current technology could limit operational characteristics. There is still a void in automated enforcement of vehicle occupancy, a shortcoming that will complicate the implementation of any managed lane that has occupancy requirements separate from or in combination with other management strategies.


The projects in operation today have made great strides in addressing the equity issue and overcoming the perceived "Lexus lane" syndrome. The I-15 Express lanes fund an entirely new bus service with revenues generated from the Express lanes. SANDAG promotes this service as a benefit of the lanes. Users and non-users both believe the lanes offer a fair alternative to the commuting public. Likewise, public opinion gathered from other operating projects indicates that motorists of varied income levels take advantage of the managed lanes.

Facilities such as the expansion of the I-15 Express lanes that include a bus rapid transit component may achieve even greater strides in addressing the equity issue. Benefits to transit users, HOVs, SOVs that buy-in, and the adjacent general-purpose traffic should be quantified and this information should be disseminated to the public.

Even with the above noted public acceptance, a need exists for documentation and quantitative assessment of the equity concerns. The implication of pricing should be compared to alternative strategies. A framework should be developed that allows for the comprehensive and comparative analysis and measurement of equity issues. Mitigation efforts should be identified and included as part of the public education strategy.


In order for the public, planners, engineers and politicians to embrace pricing, concise information and consensus on project objectives is necessary. A comprehensive list of real and perceived issues should be developed.

Because managed lanes are a new concept, it is important to identify messages that resonate with the public. But before the public can be involved it is imperative that planners, engineers, and politicians have an understanding and consensus on the purpose of a proposed project. Developing a list of issues, both real and perceived, can help the marketing professional at the local level. Focus groups comprised of agency professionals can delve into specific issues and marketing techniques to determine which messages are most effective. This will allow the marketing professional to develop clear and consistent messages tailored to specific needs. These messages can then be taken to the public in ways that will allow the public to visualize how a managed lane facility might operate.

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