12th International HOV Systems Conference: Improving Mobility and Accessibility with Managed Lanes, Pricing, and BRT
BREAKOUT SESSION — WHAT'S THE NEWS ACROSS THE NATION?
Rachel Clampffer, Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, Presiding
Maryland's Express Toll Lanes — An Alternative to Gridlock
George Walton, Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade and Douglas, Inc.
George Walton described recent studies and activities related to the consideration of express toll lanes in Maryland. He reviewed the value-pricing study conducted in 1999 and 2000, summarized the current efforts, and highlighted possible future activities. He noted the assistance and involvement of Michelle Martin from the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) in developing the presentation and in many of the activities.
- The previous value-pricing study was funded through the FHWA Value Pricing Pilot Program. The 18-month regional study was initiated in 1999. The objective of the study was to determine the feasibility of a broad range of variable pricing strategies to develop a series of recommendations for implementation.
- HOT lanes were a new concept at the time of the previous study. The value-pricing study received a lot of negative press, mostly in the newspaper and on the radio. On June 21, 2001, the Governor issued a press release to "remove any proposals to study or implement HOT lanes." As a result of this action the study was stopped and a final report was not completed.
- A number of lessons were learned from the previous study. First, the large scope of the project made it difficult for the public and policy makers to understand the proposed concepts. Second, no project champion emerged among elected officials to promote the HOT lane concept. Finally, more emphasis on public outreach and education was needed.
- The response to the first study presented a number of challenges as the current effort examining express toll lanes was initiated. Addressing public opinions and perceptions, especially those related to equity, smart growth and double taxation, represented a major challenge. There were also technical concerns related to enforcement, right-of-way, and legal issues.
- Maryland remains interested in the FHWA Pilot Program, and recently supported the Metropolitan Washington Council of Government's proposal submitted by the Virginia Department of Transportation. The current interest in value pricing and HOT lanes is the result of numerous factors. These factors include a realization that mega-transportation projects require their own funding or supplemental funding arrangements. They cannot be paid for solely by the Transportation Trust Fund. MDOT believes express toll lanes can pay a portion of the mega-highway projects. A government commitment was made to refocus on much needed highway infrastructure and innovative financing to achieve a more mobile Maryland. It also appears that many elected officials now see the benefits of these approaches.
- Public outreach has been a major element of the express toll lanes initiative. Elements of the public outreach program include a brochure, a website (www.maryland transportation.com and click on the express toll lanes icon), and public meetings, including hearings and open house workshops and on I-95, I-270, and I-495.
- MDOT is examining adding new express toll lanes and converting an existing general-purpose or HOV lane in combination with adding a new express toll lane. The express toll lanes concept is to provide Maryland's residents, employers, businesses, and visitors with an alternative. The express toll lanes allow travelers a choice of relatively congestion-free travel whenever it is needed the most. Toll rates would vary based on demand — either by time-of-day or based on actual traffic conditions. The tolls would increase when lanes are relatively full and decrease when there is extra capacity.
- A statewide express toll lane system is being considered. Express toll lanes are being considered wherever they make sense on controlled access highways experiencing chronic congestion during peak travel times. Project development studies are underway on I-270, I-495/I-95 (Capital Beltway), and I-95 north of Baltimore. BRT would be an important element of the express toll lanes. The express toll lanes would provide trip time reliability and operating efficiency for BRT.
- In general, the public is interested in more capacity as soon as possible. A number of concerns have been expressed with different approaches, however. There are some concerns about the right-of-way impacts of adding lanes and the impacts on the natural, social, and cultural environment. There are also concerns about double taxation, as well as environmental justice issues with HOT and value pricing projects. Concerns with converting general-purpose lanes and HOV lanes to tolled lanes have also been raised. Finally, there are concerns with increased commute costs and equity issues.
- Based on the national experience with different toll and value pricing projects some common themes seem to be emerging. First, motorists appear willing to pay for premium service. Second, the public seems more interested in eliminating toll plazas than eliminating tolls in many areas. Third, there is increased scrutiny of highway projects for toll financing opportunities in many areas. Fourth, pricing has led to the efficient use of existing and new capacity, reduced congestion, and increased choice for motorists. Finally, education of stakeholders is critical. There is a strong correlation between knowledge of and support for value pricing projects.
- The Washington Post recently conducted a survey of area highway users. Approximately 60 percent of the respondents favored tolls as a way to pay for highway expansion. Some 58 percent agreed with the concept of allowing SOVs to use the HOV lanes in the region for a fee. Approximately 48 percent supported adjusting tolls based on the level of congestion.
- Maryland's current express toll lane initiative would not allow HOVs to travel for free due to limitations in the ability to enforce lane restrictions and occupancy requirements, especially if there is limited right-of-way or no barrier. There is also a desire to maximize revenue projections. Carpoolers would still benefit from shared toll rates.
- The I-270 Multimodal Corridor Study is examining HOV conversion to express toll lanes. Issues being examined include lane separation, access, enforcement, and open road tolling. Options including a reversible lane system and two lanes in each direction are being considered. The connections to the Capital Beltway are also being examined. Possible impacts on the Corridor Cities Transitway are being considered.
- The I-495/I-95 Capital Beltway Study is exploring general-purpose lane conversion to express toll lanes. Issues being examined in the study include connections to the radial roadway systems, open road tolling, lane separation, access, and enforcement.
- The study on I-95 north of Baltimore is examining adding new lanes in the freeway median. One section is currently under design and additional sections are under study to the north. Open-road tolling and lane separation are being explored.
- Design issues being examined include access points and weaves. Signing, traffic control, and open-road tolling are also being examined. Some of the key challenges of open-road tolling include the handling of non-express toll lane vehicles, a violation enforcement system, automatic vehicle classification, and vehicle positioning within a multi-lane tolling environment.
- A number of enforcement issues are also being examined. These issues include toll payment, vehicle eligibility, and occupancy requirements. Violation processing protocols are being determined. Legislative requirements needed for enforcement are being examined. Consideration is being given to dedicated versus incidental enforcement, facility design, facility safety, and toll levels.
- Other issues under examination include project ownership and coordination between the State Highway Agency and the Maryland Toll Authority. Access, enforcement, travel demand forecasting, and revenue forecasting are other issues. The potential for express toll lanes will be evaluated as part of normal project development process. Pilot project opportunities will be identified. Public outreach will be coordinated through ongoing projects.
MnPASS — Minnesota's I-394 HOT Lane Project
Marthand Nookala, Minnesota Department of Transportation
Marthand Nookala discussed the MnPASS program on the I-394 HOV lanes, which will allow SOVs to use the lanes for a fee. He highlighted the project background, objectives, and operation.
- The I-394 HOV lanes were opened in 1992. FHWA policies limit general purpose use of HOV lanes depending on the source of federal funding used for construction. The HOV lanes on I-394 and I-35W have available capacity, while the adjacent general-purpose lanes are chronically congested. In 2003, the state legislature, with bipartisan support, authorized HOV expansion to HOT lanes.
- Buses, carpools and vanpools, and single-occupant toll vehicles will be able to use the MnPASS Express Lanes on I-394. The HOV lanes connect to the Third Avenue Distributor (TAD) garages, which include an intermodal transfer facility, parking, and links to the downtown skyway system.
- The revenues for MnPASS will first be used to pay for the project infrastructure, administration, maintenance, and operations. By state law, any additional revenue must be split 50 percent for transit improvements and 50 percent for corridor improvements. All improvements must be in the I-394 area.
- The MnPASS project has a number of objectives. The first objective is to improve the efficiency of I-394 by increasing the person and the vehicle-carrying capabilities of the HOV lanes. The second objective is to maintain freeflow speeds for transit and carpools in the HOV lanes. The third objective is to improve highways and transit in the corridor with the revenues generated from the project. The fourth objective is to deploy electronic toll collection, including tags, transponders, and readers to maintain travel speeds. The final objective is to employ new ITS technologies to facilitate dynamic pricing and in-vehicle electronic enforcement.
- An I-394 Express Lane Community Task Force was formed to help oversee the project. The Task Force includes 22 individuals appointed by the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor, and communities in the corridor. The Task Force represents a bipartisan and diverse group. The Task Force reviews express lane issues and provides input to Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT). The Department also obtained input from other interested people and groups through a citizen Open House, which included staff answering citizen questions and taking testimony; focus groups of carpoolers, transit users, and solo drivers; and meetings with interested groups and public officials. The Task Force is also involved in the project evaluation.
- The I-394 HOV lanes are approximately 11 miles in length. They include a two-lane barrier-separated reversible section and one-lane-per-direction concurrent HOV lane in the middle of a four-lane freeway. There will be five eastbound and six westbound access points in concurrent flow lane section. HOVs and transit will be able to use the lanes for free. No heavy vehicles will be allowed.
- Dynamic pricing will be used. Tolls will be based on the level of congestion. Tolls during the peak periods will average between $1.00 to $4.00, with $8.00 the maximum. Tolls during off-peak periods will average $0.25.
- The concurrent flow lanes will operate on a 24/7 basis. The two-lane reversible section will operate eastbound from 5:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and westbound from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. The schedule on weekends will vary depending on special events in downtown Minneapolis.
- Enforcement will be essential to the success of MnPASS. There will be increased enforcement through partnerships with the Minneapolis Police Department, the Golden Valley Police Department, the Metro Transit Police, and the Minnesota State Patrol. Violating the MnPASS requirements is a petty misdemeanor with a $130 fine.
- The process to subscribe to the MnPASS program is relatively simple. An individual completes a transponder lease agreement and provides a credit card number. Subscribers receive a transponder and instructions on use. With the transponder, they can "get in and go," as the MnPASS slogan notes. Individuals can subscribe online, by telephone, or in person at the Customer Service Center.
- Construction of the toll elements and other features was completed at the end of March, 2005. Testing of the system is currently underway. The Customer Service Center opened April 11. Lane striping will be completed in early May. The MnPASS program on I-394 will open the week of May 16.
- A comprehensive evaluation is being conducted on the project. The evaluation will provide the public and decision makers with valuable information on the observed impacts of the system. It will also provide information on the public's perceptions and attitudes regarding the system. The evaluation will provide Mn/DOT and the MnPASS team with feedback on the performance of the system. Information from the evaluation will provide a solid foundation for any future decisions regarding potential expansion of the system. Two separate, but coordinated, evaluation teams will be used. One team will conduct the technical system performance evaluation. A second team will conduct the attitudinal evaluation. On-going evaluation activities will be conducted over the next two years.
- More information is available at www.mnpass.org. The project manager, Nick Thompson, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Seattle's SR 167 Pilot Project
Nytasha Sowers, Washington State Transportation Center
Nytasha Sowers discussed the State Route (SR) 167 HOT lane pilot project in the Puget Sound Region. She described the HOT lane concept, the HOV lanes in the region considered for the pilot project, and the proposed project on SR 167.
- The definition of HOT lanes used in the Puget Sound Region are carpool lanes which are free for 2+ HOVs and transit, but which allow solo drivers to pay a toll to use the HOT lane when space is available. Tolls for solo-drivers are set to ensure near freeflow conditions in the HOT lane, maintaining the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) HOV performance standard of 45 mph a minimum of 90 percent of time. HOT lanes are intended to improve the overall efficiency of congested freeway corridors. Freeflow speeds are maintained and drivers do not experience delay. The maximum vehicle throughput for a lane is reached between 45 mph and 50 mph with approximately 2,000 vehicles per lane per hour. When congestion resulting in reduced speeds and traffic backups occur, the capacity of the lane is reduced as much as 50 percent. Available capacity exists in some HOV lanes in the region for toll paying SOVs.
- Four different HOV lanes in the region were considered for the HOT pilot project. These facilities were I-405 from SR 520 to I-5 North, I-5 from the south end to I-90, I-90 from I-405 to Issaquah, and SR 167. SR 167 was selected due to the continuous availability of capacity, peak hour congestion on the freeway, and the ability to make minor roadway modifications. The state legislature provided approval for the four-year pilot project and an FHWA grant provides most of the needed funding. Changes will be made during the pilot project as needed.
- The existing SR 167 cross section includes two general-purpose lanes and an HOV lane in each direction of travel. The HOV lane is separated from the adjacent general-purpose lane by a solid white line. Ingress and egress is allowed at any point.
- An ETC system will be used on SR 167 HOT pilot project. Vehicles using the HOT lanes will have transponders. Readers located above the HOT lane will read transponders and toll charges will be deducted from pre-paid accounts. Electronic signs will display the toll rate.
- The conceptual HOT lane cross-section includes the addition of a double white line buffer separation. Vehicles will be able to enter the HOT lanes at the beginning of the lanes and at three midpoint access locations in the southbound direction and four midpoint access locations in the northbound direction. The final design and the location of the access points will be based on safety considerations. FHWA guidelines prescribe a 1,000 foot or larger opening. Overhead signs will display the toll rate, which will vary depending on traffic congestion in the corridor. The access points will include an overhead transponder reader and an enforcement light. An enforcement area will also be provided at each access point.
- Transit and HOV vehicles will continue to use the SR 167 HOV lanes for free. SOVs with pre-paid transponder accounts will be able to use the lane through electronic tolling. The tolls will be based on level of congestion and the space available in the HOT lane. Based on preliminary modeling it appears that the toll rates will range from $0.60 in the off-peak to $1.25 in the peak-period. Tolls may potentially be higher during periods of severe congestion. A toll charge will be assessed only once in corridor. The gross revenue during the first year of operation is estimated at $1.2 million. Revenues will be used to cover operation and maintenance costs first.
- Modeling results indicate that during peak periods 13 percent more vehicles will move through the corridor, while maintaining travel speeds and trip time reliability in the HOT lane. It is estimated that HOT lane usage will increases by 20 percent northbound and 56 percent southbound.
- The recently-approved state legislation provides tolling authority for the four-year pilot project. It also sets performance standards, allows dynamic tolling, requires an annual report, and provides direction on the use of toll revenues and privacy issues. Phase I of the pilot project will be implemented using a $1.18 million grant from FHWA. The scope of Phase I includes preliminary engineering, outreach, public opinion research, and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis. The preliminary engineering includes the channelization plan and the operational concept for the overall tolling system.
- More information on the pilot project is available at www.wsdot.wa.gov/hov/sr167hotlanes.gov.