Office of Operations
21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

CHAPTER 6. Direction for Future Practice

The success of HOT lanes in a growing number of states suggests that there is a strong market demand for high quality, dependable Express Lanes that function as a safety valve from highway congestion. However, the case studies, in addition to the experience of new HOT lane projects elsewhere, indicate that HOT lanes - while they demonstrate the feasibility of several important operational concepts - are assets that have diminished valuation compared to other toll alternatives.

While there may be a compelling financial case for requiring all vehicles to pay a toll regardless of occupancy, the opportunity to leverage private financing and PPP mechanisms must be weighed against program objectives developed specifically to mitigate public concerns such as equity, fairness and privacy. In many cases, there is a strong consensus to accept suboptimal rates of return in exchange for mitigations that demonstrate the state's commitment to meeting public concerns.

As more agencies assess the feasibility of converting existing HOV to HOT lanes, it is important that planners, designers and other practitioners avoid 'relearning' lessons others have struggled with in converting HOV lanes to HOT lanes. One of the biggest challenges facing HOT lane planning and operations is and will continue to be enforcement. Perhaps the major lesson learned from the case studies is that while manual enforcement is imperfect, it can be an effective method of deterring violations in HOT lanes with limited access. Even with multiple enforcement zones, it is virtually impossible for law enforcement to perform 100% occupancy checks of vehicles that self-identify as HOVs.

This is especially true of HOT lane that are non- barrier separated and have multiple access points. As HOT lane facilities expand in length and grow from a facility-based to network-based system, manual enforcement will at some point experience diminishing effectiveness as a violation deterrent strategy. The following section briefly identifies the Best Practices Top 20 highlighting those areas HOT lane practitioners should be cognizant of to avoid problems and challenges that may arise during each phase of project development and implementation.

6.1 Best Practices

The purpose of this section is to identify best practices in each of the major stages of project development, per the discussion in Chapter 2. The best practices identified here are informed by information gathered as part of the focused interviews and research conducted on HOT implementation projects completed over the past 15 years.

6.1.1 Project Pre-Planning and System Planning

  • Engage local and state leadership early and often during planning and design phases.
  • Develop an extensive and effective Public Outreach Program that begins at the earliest stages and continues through operations.
  • Ensure that the HOT project is included in the MPO planning requirements as soon as possible.
  • Identify a strong Political Champions at the State and Local levels willing to advocate the HOT conversion project and participate in efforts to build support for the HOT conversion program.
  • Foster a revenue and sharing plan that includes transit when possible to do so.

6.1.2 System Design

  • Design for efficiency, safety and ease of participation by the public.
  • Provide the public with a viable travel option.
  • Utilize electronic and video tolling concepts; no toll booths.
  • Consider using dynamic tolling strategies to control traffic volumes.

6.1.3 Project Financing

  • Federal funds and grants are essential to implementing a project.
  • Investigate PPP options either as stand alone or as supplemental to Federal funding.
  • Use local Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) options as appropriate to address short falls.

6.1.4 Implementation

  • Utilize electronic and video tolling concepts.
  • Consider outsourcing back office and/or Customer Services with an established Customer Service Center.
  • Ensure the establishment of maintenance services to provide 24/7 operations to include an On-Line Maintenance System (MOMs).

6.1.5 Operations and Management

  • Determine if 24/7 toll operations meets objectives and is generally supported by resources and the public.
  • Use dynamic pricing strategies to maintain free flow speeds.
  • Implement an enforcement system that is visible, effective and fair (from the public's perspective) to ensure the integrity of the facility.
  • Share information and research with agencies along the corridor to obtain their support and ensure the success of the facility.
  • Implement a continuing and comprehensive evaluation of the facility to maintain support, to encourage continued growth, to use in marketing campaigns and to inform the public.

6.2 Lessons Learned

Although each of the case studies differed from one another and from a number of the implementations reviewed in the literature, there were several project development issues and challenges around which key lessons learned with similar themes were articulated. The lesson learned that resonated across several projects are presented here to alert and to assist practitioners to challenges likely to be encountered throughout the project development process.

  1. Every HOV to HOT conversion project needs a political champion with strong credibility among state, regional and locally elected officials. Based on the case studies, the presence of a political champion at both the State and local levels was critical in building support within the State Legislature and developing mitigation strategies for potential deal-breakers.

  2. An extensive public outreach program with stakeholder outreach, a multi-agency taskforce, public meetings are absolutely necessary for success and acceptance. A successful program built around three or four program objectives is critical for obtaining buy-in with the public and with elected officials.

  3. HOT lanes should not be implemented as a revenue generator for added capacity. They should be 'sold' to the public and implemented as a congestion management tool first and a possible source of revenue second.

  4. It is critical to fully understand the impact of creating added capacity to HOV lanes and potentially creating unexpected, new congestion hot spots.

  5. Enforcement of occupancy requirements is the most difficult operational challenge facing toll agencies and enforcement officers because automatic technologies have not yet met reliability and field accuracy requirements required for operational deployment.

  6. Signage among the various tolled facilities was not consistent especially when announcing enforcement provisions for lane violations. This lack of consistent enforcement signage was found to contribute to unauthorized users accessing the facilities and appeared to contribute to the practice of lane diving from the general purpose lanes into the managed lanes that were not barrier separated.

6.3 Direction for Future Practice

Tolling and dynamic pricing are gaining greater recognition among the State DOT’s as a means of generating revenues for system improvements and for managing increasing traffic levels. Each HOV transition to HOT operations will, by necessity, be evaluated on the unique circumstances for each area. While each implementation will be a unique application dependent on road geometry, right of way availability, density and alternative corridors, it is important that consideration be given to the utilization of common, and to some degree, interoperable technologies for a HOT facility. Some trends and practices that are emerging throughout the nation as HOT lane implementations grow include

6.3.1 Legislative

Legislatures are becoming more proactive in providing enabling legislation that will provide the states with the authority to collect tolls, to toll HOV facilities, to implement an effective violation enforcement policy, to provide authorization to collect administration and processing fees, and to provide for a PPP policy.

6.3.2 Electronic and Video Toll Payment

To minimize the impact to the traveling public, toll booths will not be used for HOT lane operations. As congestion increases and the average number of HOT lane facilities increases to beyond 2 lanes in each direction, the HOT implementations will begin to resemble ORT) implementations using a combination of electronic and video tolling.

6.3.3 Enforcement

As was mentioned numerous times, enforcement is critical to the successful operation of any HOV/managed lane facility. Visible and effective enforcement promotes fairness and maintains the integrity of the facility to help gain and maintain public acceptance of the project. Continued technology improvements will provide effective video capture and optical character recognition systems for license plate capture. However, these improvements alone will not be sufficient for an effective enforcement system. It will be necessary to implement a reliable and accurate mobile enforcement system that complements the improved video systems. Visible and effective enforcement promotes fairness and maintains the integrity of the facility to help gain and maintain public acceptance of the project.

6.3.4 Occupancy Enforcement

Probably the most frequent type of violation infraction that enforcement officers encounter is occupancy violations, which requires them to see inside a vehicle and to be able to count the number of occupants. Current technology does not exist to determine accurately the number of occupants in a vehicle. However, perhaps within the next ten to fifteen years an on board unit capable of determining vehicle occupancy will be fully integrated in a vehicle and capable of communicating this information to the enforcement officer at the roadside using DSRC technology. Until this technology is available it is likely that DOT's and toll agencies will require all HOT users to establish either a transponder or a video toll account to assist in separating HOV authorized users from SOV users.

June 2007
Publication #FHWA-HOP-08-034