12th International HOV Systems Conference: Improving Mobility and Accessibility with Managed Lanes, Pricing, and BRT
OPENING SESSION — MANAGING MOBILITY IN HOUSTON
Katherine F. Turnbull, Texas Transportation Institute, Presiding
Katherine F. Turnbull
Texas Transportation Institute
It is a pleasure to welcome you to the Transportation Research Board's (TRB) 12th International HOV Systems Conference — Improving Mobility and Accessibility with Managed Lanes, Pricing, and BRT. The conference is sponsored by TRB's High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) Systems Committee, with support from the Managed Lanes Joint Subcommittee, the Joint Subcommittee on Pricing, the Transportation Demand Management Committee, the Freeway Operations Committee, and the Bus Transit Systems Committee.
I would like to recognize the local co-sponsors, including the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (Houston METRO), the Houston-Galveston Area Council of Governments (HGAC), and the Harris County Toll Road Authority (HCTRA). Houston METRO provided the buses, operators, and staff for the tour this morning. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) of the U.S. Department of Transportation is supporting the completion of the conference proceedings.
I would also like to thank the outstanding TRB staff for their assistance with the conference logistics. Rich Cunard, Freda Morgan, and Aaron Grogg did a great job with the hotel and registration arrangements.
David Schumacher, Chair of the HOV Systems Committee, sends his greetings. David is not able to attend the conference due to back problems, but communicates his best wishes for a productive and informative conference.
In addition to welcoming you, it is my charge to provide an overview of the changes that have occurred with HOV facilities at the national level since 1987 when the 2nd International HOV conference was held in Houston. I thought it might be of help to set these changes in the context of other cultural changes that have occurred over the past 18 years.
For example, in 1987 George Bush was President of the U.S. George Bush, that is George W. Bush, is currently President. A gallon of gasoline cost about $1.07 in 1987. Current prices at the pump average about $2.10 for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline. You could mail a first class letter for 22 cents in 1987. Mailing that same letter today will cost you 37 cents.
In 1987 we were just getting use to the term "just fax it to me, please." Today, with some 605 million Internet users worldwide, we say, "just e-mail it to me, please." If you said iPod to someone in 1987, they would probably think you were talking about a designer vegetable pea pod.
On the sports scene, the Minnesota Twins clinched the 1987 World Series during the HOV Conference, which was held in October. We are still waiting to see who will claim the title this year. The Washington Redskins won the Super Bowl in 1987. The New England Patriots are the reigning champions. At the movies, The Last Emperor was named the Best Picture at the Academy Awards in 1987, while Million Dollar Baby took the Oscar this year.
HOV facilities were still a relatively new element of the transportation system in 1987. There were 20 HOV projects on freeways and in separate rights-of-way in 12 metropolitan areas in North America in 1987, accounting for approximately 130 center-line miles. Today, there are some 130 HOV facilities operating in 31 metropolitan areas. These projects account for approximately 1,600 center-line miles.
There has also been a change in the type of HOV lanes in operation. In 1987, concurrent flow HOV lanes accounted for approximately 54 percent of the operating HOV facilities, with exclusive lanes representing 32 percent, busways accounting for 13 percent, and contraflow lanes comprising one percent. Today, concurrent flow HOV lanes represent 81 percent of operation projects, compared to 10 percent exclusive facilities, five percent busways, and four percent contraflow lanes.
The terms value pricing, managed lanes, and high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes were not in the transportation vocabulary in 1987. Today, we have HOT projects in operation here in Houston and in San Diego. The I-394 MnPASS project in Minneapolis will be starting next month, and projects are being developed in other areas. Although many of the early HOV facilities started as bus-only lanes or had major bus components, the bus rapid transit (BRT) concept takes public transportation to another level.
There was no TRB HOV Systems Committee in 1987. The TRB HOV Task Force was just getting organized. We have come a long way since 1987. The Task Force became a full committee in 1989. With the help of many of you in this room, the HOV Systems Committee has been one of the more active TRB committees over the years.
In addition to 12 international conferences, the committee has sponsored numerous sessions at TRB annual meetings. After publishing a newsletter for many years, the committee moved into the Internet era, with a committee website. Committee members have developed numerous research problem statements over the years, which have resulted in the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) HOV Systems Manual, the FHWA HOV Marketing Manual, and the FHWA HOV Demand Estimation Procedures Manual. FHWA and numerous states are sponsoring additional projects through the HOV Pooled-Fund Study. The committee also started an awards program in 2000. The third set of awards will be presented at the luncheon today. The committee also took the lead in sponsoring the new Managed Lanes Joint Subcommittee.
What might we expect to see 18 years from now when Houston hosts the 2023 Intergalactic HOV Conference? Based on the past 18 years, we might anticipated that Jenna and Barbara Bush will be President and Vice President, that DVD Pods will be the hot electronic device, and that the Million Dollar Emperor will take the Best Picture Oscar. The Texans will of course have won the Super Bowl and the Astros will be on their way to winning the World Series.
You will hear more about current trends and the future of HOV facilities over the next three days. As the conference theme indicates, I think HOV facilities — and managed lanes, value pricing, and BRT — will continue to play important roles in providing mobility options and helping address congestion issues in metropolitan areas throughout North America. I encourage you to actively participate in the conference and I hope you will find the sessions and speakers interesting and informative. Thank you.
Texas Department of Transportation
Thank you Katie. It is a pleasure to welcome you to this conference on behalf of the TxDOT. The Department is pleased to be a local co-sponsor of the conference.
While Katie provided highlights since the 1987 conference in Houston, let me start by going back to 1917, when legislation established the Texas Highway Department (THD). In 1975, the legislature merged the Texas Mass Transportation Commission into THD and we became the Texas State Department of Highways and Public Transportation (SDHPT). In 1991, the legislature added the Department of Aviation and the Texas Motor Vehicle Commission and we became the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). The Texas Turnpike Authority was merged into TxDOT in the mid-1990s and in 2003 the legislature moved the Medicaid and non-emergency medical transportation programs into the Department.
This brief history provides an indication of the changing nature of the Department and transportation at the state level in Texas. As with other states, transportation in Texas is constantly evolving to keep pace with changing needs and expectations.
We have seen many changes within just the past few years. Legislation in 2003, specifically House Bill 3588, fundamentally changed transportation and the role of TxDOT. The bill provided significant changes in the way TxDOT operates and the funding options available in the Department. It also established the Trans Texas Corridor (TTC).
Managing mobility in the Houston area involves numerous components and partners. HOV facilities, toll roads, bus transit, light rail transit (LRT), freeways, arterial streets, intelligent transportation systems (ITS), TranStar, and traffic operations are all part of the approach. Also, the Houston TxDOT District is only one of two districts in the state that operates a ferry boat service.
I would like to provide a few examples of the coordination and cooperation that occurs among agencies and organizations in the Houston area to address critical transportation needs. We are working with Montgomery County, which is on the north side of the metropolitan area, on a shadow tolling or pass through tolling project. This approach allows the county to issue bonds to expedite construction of roadway projects. TxDOT will pay the county back on an agreed upon schedule based on forecast traffic volumes.
The I-10 West Freeway managed lanes represent the coordinated efforts of TxDOT, HCTRA, and Houston METRO. You will be hearing more about this project during the breakout sessions, but HCTRA is providing financial support for the managed lanes and will operate the lanes. Houston METRO buses will travel for free and 3+ carpools will not pay tolls during the morning and afternoon peak periods. We are also working with HCTRA and Houston METRO on possible improvements in the I-45 North Freeway corridor.
Many of you visited TranStar this morning on the tour. TranStar opened in 1996. The development and operation of TranStar represents the coordinated efforts of TxDOT, Houston METRO, Harris County, and the City of Houston. When TranStar opened, the control room was about half full. The control room is now at capacity and we are exploring options for expansion. Personnel from TxDOT, METRO, Harris County, and the City of Houston representing traffic operations, bus and rail operations, law enforcement and emergency services, flood control, and many other functions are all located in the control room. Space is also provided for commercial traffic reports.
TranStar has changed dramatically in nine years and it has had a positive influence on the way agencies work together in the Houston area. The City of Houston recently implemented a Safe Clear freeway towing program. Using a competitive procurement process, the City has exclusive contracts with towing companies for specific segments of the freeway system. Now, rather than having multiple tow trucks show up at a crash or other incident, one tow truck responds within a required time period. While there were some issues surrounding the program, other cities are looking at starting similar programs.
Finally, the railroad situation in Houston and other major cities in the state is an important issue. Railroads have played an important part in the development of Houston, as noted by the train on the city seal. Railroads continue to be a critical part of the transportation network in the region, serving the Port of Houston and other facilities. The railroad lines also cause potential operational and safety issues, however, as many cut through very developed parts of the city. TxDOT is working with the City of Houston, Harris County, other agencies, and the railroads to look at possible option for the railroad system in the region.
You will hear more about the Houston HOV lanes and related projects in the breakout sessions. I hope you have a very productive conference and an enjoyable stay in Houston. Thank you.
Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County
Thank you, Katie. On behalf of the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (Houston METRO), our President Frank Wilson, and our Board of Directors, it is a pleasure to welcome you to this conference and to Houston. As a participant in the 1987 conference, it is also a pleasure to provide an overview of METRO's bus and LRT system. I hope you enjoyed the tour this morning and were able to see some of the major elements of the HOV system, including the park-and-ride lots and transit centers.
I hope the tour also gave you a good perspective on the partnership among agencies here in Houston. We know that no one agency can address all the transportation issues alone. As Gary noted, the agencies are working collaboratively to bring together a regional transportation system. METRO is pleased to be a partner in the development and operation of a holistic transportation system in the Houston area.
By way of background, Houston is the fourth largest city in the U.S. with a population of approximately 4.5 million. The population is forecast to grow to some 6.5 to 7 million. Houston is the energy capital of the country. Houston is also the largest city without zoning. The development patterns of the city have been influenced by the automobile and the freeway system. As Gary mentioned, there are currently 104 miles of HOV lanes in operation in six freeway corridors. Some 116,000 person trips and 37,400 vehicles use the HOV lanes on a daily basis.
When the previous HOV conference was held in Houston in 1987, the HOV system was in the early stages of development. The system is mature now, and it represents a major component of the public transportation system in Houston. METRO provides frequent express bus service from 22 park-and-ride lots. Four transit centers also serve the HOV system. Bus lanes on streets in the downtown and midtown areas provide another key element of the overall system.
The HOV system has attracted choice riders — people who could drive if they wanted — to transit. The Houston area is a difficult region to serve with public transportation due to low densities and spread-out development. By offering frequent service on the HOV lanes, often with over-the-road coaches, METRO has been able to attract commuters who previously drove alone.
The HOV system began with the contraflow demonstration project on the I-45 North Freeway. The initial focus of the system was on authorized vehicles — buses and vanpools — due to the design and operation of the contraflow lane. A barrier-separated median design was used on the I-10 West HOV project and carpoolers were allowed to use the lane. This design was used on other HOV projects. Due to high use levels, and the resulting congestion in the HOV lanes, the vehicle-occupancy requirements were increased to 3+ on the I-10 West HOV lane during the peak hours. This requirement was extended to the US 290 HOV lane during the morning peak hour.
The HOV system has been expanded to both provide a holistic transit system and to meet increasing demands. The I-10 West corridor provides a good example of this approach. The Addicks park-and-ride lot has been expanded over the years from 1,000 parking spaces to 2,500 spaces. Buses are provided direct access to the HOV lane by a flyover ramp. Bus service is oriented to downtown Houston and to other major activity centers through major transit centers. The transit centers also provide connections between buses using the HOV lanes and local service.
A significant part of the Regional Bus Plan has focused on improvements in the downtown area. METRO has been rebuilding major sections of streets in the downtown and mid-town areas. On some one-way streets, the right curb lane is reserved for buses and the first travel lane is reserved for buses and carpools. Sidewalks have been widened in some areas to allow more space for passenger waiting areas and passenger shelters.
METRO first considered a rail system in 1979. After numerous studies and plans, involving a variety of technologies, the voters approved an initial LRT line in 1999. The seven-mile METRORail line from Reliant Stadium to downtown opened in January 2004. The line serves the midtown area and the Texas Medial Center (TMC).
There were some 7.7 million boardings on the LRT line in 2004. The line currently averages approximately 33,000 boardings a day. A January 2005 article in the Houston Chronicle noted that METRORail's 4,053 boardings per route mile was the best in the U.S. for a LRT system. The LRT line has also helped generate economic development and redevelopment in the Main Street corridor. METRO's new downtown transit center and administrative building are located along the METRORail line.
There are plans to expand both the LRT and the HOV network. Two-directional HOV lanes will be provided in some corridors. METRO looks forward to continuing the strong partnership with TxDOT, HCTRA, and local governments to develop and operate these additional elements.
Again, welcome to Houston and to the 12th International HOV Conference. I hope you find the conference to be very productive and I hope you enjoy your stay in Houston.
Harris County Toll Road Authority
Thank you, Katie. It is a pleasure to participate in this opening session and to talk with you about the Harris County Toll Road Authority (HCTRA). As Gary and John have noted, HCTRA is an important partner in addressing congestion and mobility issues in the Houston area. We are currently working with TxDOT and METRO on the I-10 West Freeway managed lanes and we are exploring other potential projects.
HCTRA was established in 1983 when voters in the country approved bonding authorization. By the late 1980s, 52 miles of toll roads had been opened. HCTRA currently operates approximately 100 center-line miles of toll roads and 270 toll lanes. These facilities include the Sam Houston Tollway, the Hardy Toll Road, the Hardy Airport Connector, and the Westpark Tollway. We also operate the Fort Bend Parkway Toll Road for the Fort Bend County Toll Road Authority.
Electronic toll collection (ETC), called EZ TAG, was introduced in 1992 to help address congestion at toll plazas. Two EZ TAG lanes are provided at toll plazas. Initially, 40,000 EZ TAGs were made available. EZ TAG accounts have grown by approximately 12 percent a year. Today, there are some 540,000 EZ TAG accounts and over one million EZ TAGs in use. In 2004, the HCTRA website accounted for 38 percent of the new accounts. Approximately 63 percent of all toll transactions are made with EZ TAGs and EZ TAG transactions account for 70 percent of all tolls paid during the morning and afternoon peak periods.
The Westpark Tollway represents HCTRA's first all electronic toll road and the first all-electronic toll road — or open road tolling — in the U.S. All vehicles must have EZ TAGs, as there are no toll booths. The facility is 16 miles in length and was constructed at a cost of approximately $400 million. A number of engineering challenges had to be addressed in the construction of the Westpark Tollway. These challenges included a very limited right-of-way, with four travel lanes in an 80 foot-wide cross section, and 20 major crossings. The project included complex utility relocations involving 19 utility companies, three municipal utility districts, and the City of Houston. A total of 20 separate construction contracts were used on the project.
The all-ETC system was necessitated by the limited right-of-way, as there was no space to accommodate toll booths. Elevated sections and depressed connecting ramps are also used due to the limited right-of-way. Automated vehicle identification (AVI), vehicle enforcement system (VES), and redundant lane controllers are used for toll collection and enforcement.
A public information effort was undertaken to introduce the facility and the all-EZ TAG payment method. HCTRA's public relations personnel coordinated with and relied on public media channels, including television news programs, newspapers, radio stations, and the EZ TAG store in the corridor to disseminate information on the Westpark Tollway. EZ TAG ONLY signs are used on connecting facilities. The Westpark Tollway has averaged 1.6 million transactions a month over the first nine months of operation. Violation rates averaged about 16 percent daily the first month, which is high for HCTRA operated toll roads. After five months of operation, the monthly violation rate declined to between 8 to 10 percent, or approximately three percent above the typical system-wide violation rate.
Although minor start-up issues were encountered, the overall project has been successful and the technical solutions have met expectations. The reactions from both EZ TAG customers and the surrounding communities have been positive. The response from the press and the public to the informational program has also been positive.
A direct connector ramp from the Sam Houston Tollway to SH 249 was opened in February 2005. Only EZ TAG payment is available on this connector. Toll revenues increased by some three percent with the opening of this connector, while there was no noticeable increase in the violation percentage over previous months.
HCTRA has plans for other toll roads in the area and we are working with TxDOT on managed lanes projects. The managed lanes on I-10 West will be EZ TAG-only and will use time of day or variable pricing. Managed lane projects are also being considered in other freeway corridors.
A Tri-Party Agreement among FHWA, TxDOT, and HCTRA and a Memorandum of Understanding among TxDOT, METRO, and HCTRA outline the development and operation of the managed lanes. A level of service (LOS) C will be maintained to ensure that METRO buses are not delayed due to traffic congestion. Houston METRO buses will not have to pay a toll. During the morning and the afternoon weekday peak-period, 3+ carpools will also not have to pay a toll. During other times of the day 3+ carpools will be charged, and 2+ person carpools will be charged at all times. An option for adding rail at some point in the future is also provided.
The US 290 Freeway corridor is also being considered for managed lanes. There is a parallel railroad corridor along much of the route. HCTRA is considering a toll and managed lanes project using the railroad right-of-way.
Thank you again for the opportunity to participate in this session and for highlighting HCTRA projects. We value our working relationships with TxDOT and Houston METRO and look forward to working with them on future projects. I hope you have a very successful conference.