Priced Managed Lane Guide
CHAPTER 1. Purpose and Need for Managed Lanes
Managed lanes are designated lanes or roadways within highway rights-of-way where the flow of traffic is managed by restricting vehicle eligibility, limiting facility access, or and in some cases collecting variably priced tolls. The term “managed lanes” was introduced in the late 1990s over a decade ago to refer to a variety of special-use highway lanes including and referred to high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes, express toll lanes (ETL), and truck-only toll (TOT) lanes. At its broadest, managed lanes could refer to any dedicated and restricted lane that is not a general-purpose lane. However, the term “managed lanes” has come to mean the subcategory of highway lanes that are more actively managed through the use of pricing. This Guide addresses only managed lanes on controlled-access highways. A wide variety of managed lanes also operate in arterial settings, but at the time of publication, none of these facilities involved tolling a subset of lanes.
The earliest managed lanes in the United States were exclusive busways built in the late 1960s. In response to the oil shocks of the early 1970, carpools were permitted to use the Shirley Highway (I-395) busway in Virginia. After a 1976 bus strike, carpools of three or more persons to were allowed to use the El Monte Busway in California. The concept of HOV lanes soon followed, providing an incentive to promote ride sharing by allowing vehicles with a designated number of occupants—usually two—to use the managed lane. The ability to provide travel benefits to car poolers while promoting greater operational efficiencies and environmental benefits made HOV lanes a common approach for expanding capacity in many states. Federal funding policies favoring transportation improvements that addressed air quality concerns reinforced this trend during the 1980s and ’90s. Today, HOV lanes remain the most prevalent form of managed lane in the United States, with lane-miles in service doubling from 1,500 in 1995 to over 3,000 in 2005.
The first priced managed lanes were introduced in the mid to late 1990s. This was due largely to the flexibility afforded by electronic toll collection (ETC) and a developing realization that pricing could be an effective congestion-management tool. The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) also encouraged the spread of priced manage lanes by providing the opportunity to introduce variably priced tolls on Interstate highway lanes on a demonstration basis and established the Congestion Pricing Pilot Program to promote and study pricing applications. The earliest priced managed lane facilities included:
As of May 2012, an additional 10 priced managed lane facilities have opened to service and another 40 are in construction or advanced planning. These new projects offer great diversity in their design and involve the conversion or extension of existing HOV facilities to priced operation, as well as investments in mega-projects with multiple lanes and points of access and egress. In addition, a number of metropolitan regions are moving forward with plans to develop networks of managed lanes that provide improved access and new travel options. The varied experience emanating from this new generation of priced managed lane projects is captured in this Guide.
Priced managed lanes combine two of the most effective highway management tools:
Priced managed lanes may include HOT lanes, ETLs, TOT lanes, and Bus Toll Lanes (BTL). The following subsection describes the different forms of priced managed lanes.
High-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes use price, occupancy and access restrictions to manage the number of vehicles traveling on them, thereby maintaining free-flow traffic conditions, even during peak travel periods. Typically, qualifying HOVs may use these limited-access highway lanes for free or at a reduced cost. Motorists in vehicles that do not meet passenger occupancy requirements may choose between the general-purpose lanes or paying for premium conditions in the HOT lanes.
HOT lanes use electronic toll collection and traffic information systems that make it possible to provide variable, real-time toll pricing for non-HOV vehicles. Motorists receive information on price levels and travel conditions via variable message signs, providing potential users with information they need to decide whether or not to use the HOT lanes or the general-purpose lanes.
ETLs are dedicated managed lanes within highway rights-of-way that motorists may use by paying a variably priced toll. They are also typically located next to the median to encourage travel for longer distance trips. Unlike HOT lanes, ETLs charge all vehicles—including HOVs—for passage. In some cases they may also offer discounted passage for HOVs, but ETLs do not incentivize ride sharing to the extent that HOT lanes do. Enforcement is much simpler and less costly than HOT lanes because there is no need to enforce vehicle occupancy. ETL concepts are also attractive to transportation agencies that want to use toll revenues to cover the cost of new construction and operation.
TOT lanes are tolled highway lanes available only to trucks. Currently, there are no TOT lanes in the U.S., although there have been a few studies and proposals to implement TOTs. Truck lanes are best suited to locations where merge/diverge maneuvers can be improved with a dedicated lane or roadway for a short distance.
BTLs represent the pricing of a managed lane or lanes with up to 10 percent of the capacity dedicated to bus transit. BTL is not a HOT lane. Only transit buses would be allowed to use the lane(s) without paying a toll.
Priced managed lanes can achieve a number of complementary regional transportation goals:
For priced managed lanes to meet these goals, however, regions and individual corridors must first exhibit a number of underlying conditions. The most fundamental is recurring traffic congestion during peak periods and other times of the day. Priced managed lanes are particularly appropriate when regions have limited options for highway expansion or wish to minimize the need for expanding highways.
Priced managed lanes combine powerful tools to manage traffic flows and maintain desired traffic service levels.
Restricting the use of lanes to specific users is one of the primary tools for limiting demand and managing traffic service. The most common eligibility requirement on managed lanes is vehicle occupancy. HOV lanes have required minimum occupancy rates of two or three persons per vehicle, with those vehicles meeting the occupancy requirement allowed to use the lanes at no or a discounted toll. Restrictions can be in effect 24 hours or vary by time of day or day of the week. A managed lane using a variable eligibility strategy may restrict use to HOVs with a minimum of three or more occupants during the peak commute hours, and then relax restrictions to include lower-occupancy vehicles and occupancy-exempt vehicles or other users during off-periods. With some projects, tolling is not employed during periods of maximum demand, and only vehicles meeting requisite occupancy requirements are allowed. Other types of vehicles that may also be allowed to use priced managed lanes without paying the toll include emergency response vehicles, transit vehicles, motorcycles, and in some cases, inherently low-emission vehicles (ILEV).
A growing number of managed lane facilities use demand-based tolls as a means to make access to managed lanes available to vehicles not meeting eligibility requirements. Also known as “congestion pricing” and “value pricing,” this pricing involves charging a fee or toll to travel on a lane or roadway. The fee or toll varies according to time of day (peak/off peak) and day of week or by the level of congestion on the adjacent lanes. Pricing is used to meter the number of non-qualifying vehicles on the managed lane so it does not become congested. Tolls may vary according to a fixed schedule (fixed variable pricing) or in real time (dynamic pricing) based on actual traffic conditions in the corridor. Higher tolls are charged when congestion is heaviest and delay is at its worst, while lower tolls or free access may be provided to some or all users during periods of lowest demand. Pricing is used to balance demand and lane capacity, and may encourage some peak-period users to shift their trips to periods of lower demand.
Controlled access using lane separation and designated access points is another important mechanism to control the use of managed lanes. While unlimited concurrent access from parallel general-purpose lanes is common with many HOV facilities, access to priced managed lanes is sometimes limited to designated areas with defined toll zones. Initially, this was accomplished using fixed physical barriers, but more recently a growing number of priced managed lane facilities use lane markings to identify access points. In a similar evolution, while the majority of the nation’s early HOT lane facilities had single points of access and egress, a number of recent priced managed lane facilities provide intermediate and multiple access points—and in some cases direct grade-separated ramp connections—to managed lanes on other highways.
An additional management approach gaining acceptance is to limit free access for HOV vehicles on managed lanes to carpools that have registered with a local ridesharing agency. Registered carpool vehicles may be identified by a sticker posted on the vehicle, by license plate, or by a transponder that identifies the vehicle as a qualified carpool for purposes of toll collection and enforcement. Versions of this approach are in operation on the I-95 Express Lanes in Miami and the I-85 HOT lanes in Atlanta.
Priced managed lanes offer a variety of benefits to motorists and transit users. While no single strategy can eliminate congestion, priced managed lanes have the potential to improve travel conditions for a meaningful segment of the driving public:
The most common requisite for priced managed lane projects is recurring congestion. Highway congestion occurs when average speeds operate below 35 miles per hour (mph) for prolonged periods of 2 to 3 hours or more during each peak commute period. Priced managed lanes can be part of a broader strategy to manage congestion. Today’s priced managed lane projects benefit from a variety of complementary strategies that improve their performance, including the following:
There are a number of conditions that may indicate that priced managed lanes could be effective:
These precursor conditions lead to two distinctly different types of priced managed lane projects: those that convert existing HOV lanes to priced operation, and those that add new priced capacity to existing highways.
One common motivation behind the conversion of an HOV lane to HOT operation is the desire to manage demand on the corridor more effectively, thereby improving the overall efficiency of the HOV lane and the general-purpose lanes. While the conversion of existing HOV lanes to tolled operation is relatively simple and inexpensive compared to projects adding new highway capacity, there are a number of challenges. These often involve the location and installation of electronic toll collection equipment and signage. In some cases, local traffic mitigation is needed at exit points due to increased traffic volumes as a result of the conversion.
HOV-to-HOT conversions should also be considered when HOV lanes are congested and operating at or in excess of their capacity. When this is the case, project sponsors often consider increasing occupancy requirements, normally from HOV-2 to HOV-3. The sponsors may also consider revoking occupancy requirement exemptions for ILEVs. These changes can markedly reduce the number of vehicles in the HOV lane. However, a simultaneous HOT conversion provides the opportunity to use the newly opened capacity with variably priced tolls used as a tool to meter the flow of paying vehicles so that acceptable traffic services levels are maintained.
HOT conversions can also work well in situations where existing HOV facilities operate at capacity during peak travel periods, but have excess capacity to accommodate additional traffic during fringes of the peak or off-peak periods and in the nonpeak direction. In this case, the feasibility of a HOT conversion is enhanced if the parallel general-purpose lanes experience congestion at those times. This is the case with the I-10 HOV lanes in Los Angeles, where the facility has an HOV-3+ occupancy requirement from 6:00 to 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 to 7:00 p.m. on weekdays, and an HOV-2+ requirement at all other times. A similar approach is being taken in Houston on I-45 South. Requiring carpools to register may have the same potential benefit of metering flow, particularly if the registration process is coupled with transponder requirements for toll-paying customers.
In some situations an HOV-to-HOT conversion may also involve new construction to extend the existing HOV lane or fill in missing sections so that the converted facility has greater coverage and improved connectivity. Conversions may also involve reconfiguring the existing roadway. Several HOV-to-HOT conversion projects, notably I-95 in Miami and I-10 in Los Angeles, added a design change that accommodated a second managed lane without roadway widening next to the original HOV lane, thus adding capacity and better management to both directional lanes at the same time.
A growing number of regions—including Seattle, Austin, Salt Lake City, San Diego, Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Miami, and Northern Virginia—are incorporating priced managed lanes as major highway expansion projects. This is an appropriate strategy in congested highway corridors where there is a lack of parallel routes that can offset demand. Invariably these types of projects are expensive, but under the right conditions can generate revenues to fund a modest to significant portion of the project cost. This approach is particularly viable in regions with funding gaps and an extensive backlog of unbuilt projects.
The possibility of operating new highway capacity on a priced managed lane basis should be considered during the environmental approval process. Environmental impact statements (EIS) and environmental assessments (EA) that contain priced alternatives provide an excellent opportunity to assess the mobility benefits enabled by pricing and regional public opinion on the use of tolling. The extensive public outreach efforts associated with environmental approval documents also provide project sponsors with the opportunity to engage stakeholders in a dialog about pricing and the ability of tolls to make projects affordable in regions that might not be able to undertake them on an un-tolled basis. Public consensus is essential to move large highway projects forward and is even more important on projects involving pricing.
Selected new capacity managed lane projects under construction or recently opened include the following:
Table 1-1 provides a listing of the priced managed lane projects in operation, construction or planning as of May 2012. As of this writing, there are 14 operating priced managed lane facilities in eight states nationwide. The most recent to be completed are the 15.5 mile IH-45S in Houston, which has been operating since February 2012, and the four-mile SR-237/I-880 Express Lanes project, which opened to service in March 2012. An additional 14 priced managed lane projects are currently in construction in eight states and approximately 25 others are in planning in seven state states. Together the 53 priced managed lane projects captured in Table 1-1 extend across 10 states.
Source: Parsons Brinckerhoff
Today’s widespread development of priced managed lanes demonstrates that they have become an integral part of the nation’s transportation infrastructure since the publication of FHWA’s 2003 Guide for HOT Lane Development. Appendix 1 of the Priced Managed Lane Guide provides detailed profiles of 21 of the projects included in Table 1. Presented in a standard template to facilitate benchmarking comparisons, the profiles provide comprehensive information on the following areas:
The information provided in the Appendix 1 profiles demonstrates that there is also greater diversity in the design, operation, and procurement of priced managed lane facilities around the country. While the initial cohort of projects included in the 2003 Guide were simple facilities with single points of access and egress, many newer priced managed lane projects include multiple access points that integrate them with multiple activity centers. Projects like the I-15 Express in San Diego also include transit centers and park-and-ride lots serving new bus rapid transit (BRT) service operating on the managed lanes.
Several regions with existing priced managed lanes and others with keen interest in developing new priced managed lane capacity have begun to incorporate significant focus on this model into long-range Regional Transportation Plans and separate Managed Lane Network Plans. The movement toward coordinating the implementation of priced managed lanes at a regional scale rather than one corridor at a time stems from a desire to improve regional connectivity and improve travel options. It also fosters broader regional goals of improved transit connectivity and rideshare program participation levels. Cities that have adopted regional Managed Lane plans include Atlanta, Charlotte, Houston, Miami, Northern Virginia, Minneapolis, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle
The remaining chapters of the Priced Managed Lane Guides provide guidance on wide range of issues germane to priced managed lanes. The information in this Guide is also supplemented by many other technical publications on the topic of managed lanes that have been prepared by FHWA and are available on the Office of Operations website http://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/.
 Tina Collier and Ginger Daniels Goodin, “Developing a Managed Lanes Position Paper for a Policy-Maker Audience,” Project Bulletin 4160-5B, College Station, TX: Texas Transportation Institute, September 2002. Back to reference 1.
United States Department of Transportation - Federal Highway Administration