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Enabling Congestion Pricing in the United States

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An image of a collage of images consisting of a congested freeway, tractor-trailer traffic, people, and air planes.

Slide 1

Enabling Congestion Pricing in the United States

ITS World Congress and Exhibition on Intelligent Transport Systems and Services

SS 12 - "Strategies for Future Funding: Enabling Road Pricing and Congestion Management"

October 2006

Jeffrey F. Paniati
Associate Administrator for Operations
Federal Highway Administration
Department of Transportation

Slide 2

Presentation Outline

  • Congestion in the U.S.
  • Congestion Pricing as a solution
  • U.S. Congestion Initiative - Moving forward on pricing

Slide 3

Crisis of Congestion: A Tax on the Nation

  • Commuting costs: Each motorist stuck in traffic wastes on average 47 hours and 30 gallons of fuel every year – at a cost of $800 per person annually.
  • Quality of life: Reduced air quality, less time with family and friends.
  • Productivity: Delays to trucks and unreliability of delivery times increase costs for businesses and reduce economic competitiveness.

An image of a congested freeway.

Slide 4

Crisis of Congestion: Wasted Hours

  • Over the past 20 years, the number of hours lost each year by an average driver to congestion increased from 17 to almost 50.
  • In the 13 largest cities, drivers now spend the equivalent of almost 8 work days each year stuck in traffic.

A chart showing the annual hours lost to congestion per peak hour driver in very large metro areas, 1983 versus 2003. 2003 shows an increase over 1983.  See speaker notes for further details.

Speaker Notes:

Congestion has increased dramatically over the past 20 years in the 85 largest U.S. cities. During this time the number of hours lost each year by an average driver to congestion increased from 17 to almost 50.*

In the 13 largest cities, drivers now spend the equivalent of almost 8 work days each year stuck in traffic.

Congestion and the growing unreliability of the highway system impose severe costs on the quality of life of millions of Americans.

Parents are increasingly missing events with their children, friends, and families are finding it harder to spend time together, and civic participation broadly is being negatively impacted.

Evidence suggests that each additional 10 minutes in daily commuting time cuts involvement in community affairs by 10 percent (Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone, 2000).

Slide 5

Sources of Highway Congestion

A chart showing sources of Highway Congestion: Poor Signal Timing 5.0 percent; Weather (Snow, Ice, Fog) 15.0 percent; Work Zones 10.0 percent; Other Non-Recurring (e.g., Special Events) 5.0 percent; Bottlenecks 40.0 percent; and Traffic Incidents 25.0 percent.

Source: "Traffic Congestion and Reliability;" FHWA (September, 2005)

Speaker Notes:


Congestion is caused by a number of additional factors, including traffic incidents, special events, weather, work zones, and poor signal timing.

According to the FHWA, approximately half of all congestion can be traced to "recurring" causes (physical bottlenecks, poor signal timing, etc.) and the other half to "non-recurring" (incidents, work zones, weather, etc.).

We have significant ability to mitigate the impacts of congestion and provide critical additional capacity during peak traffic periods by more effectively addressing these factors.

Slide 6

Challenges in Reducing Highway Congestion

  • The price of highway travel (gas taxes, registration fees, etc.) bears little or no relationship to the cost of congestion.
  • Unlike other public utilities, the public expectation is that the "service" is free or does not change with changes in demand.
  • The highway industry has a long tradition of infrastructure building and has only recently begun to embrace the importance of system management and operations.

Slide 7

A Six Point Plan

  1. Relieve urban congestion.
  2. Unleash private sector investment resources.
  3. Promote operational and technological improvements.
  4. Establish a "Corridors of the Future" competition.
  5. Target major freight bottlenecks and expand freight policy outreach.
  6. Accelerate major aviation capacity projects and provide a future funding framework.

Slide 8

Congestion Pricing: An Overview

  • A charge that varies by traffic volumes or time of day.
  • It shifts discretionary travel to off-peak.
  • It increases vehicle throughput.
  • Single most viable approach to reducing congestion - positive results both here in the U.S. and around the world.
  • Reducing peak period travelers by just 3-8% can reduce delays by up to 50%.

Peak period throughput, CA SR-91,
priced vs. unpriced lanes

A chart showing peak period througput, CA SR-91, priced versus unpriced lanes. See speaker notes for further details.

Speaker Notes:

Put differently, the average rush hour driver pays out of pocket costs that do not reflect the true costs of the travel. As a result, the network gets swamped, vehicle throughput collapses, and the cost of congestion to all users grows rapidly.

There are three options available for reducing the impact of congestion on our lives:

  1. Construction to increase capacity
  2. Reducing demand through pricing and managing growth
  3. Better operations

You can increase capacity by creating more lane-miles or you can reduce demand through pricing and managed growth.

You can also operate what we have more effectively. The transportation community has not recognized that this is a solution with great promise.

Slide 9

A map of the United States (U.S.) showing the summary of key U.S. road pricing projects operating or under development. See speaker notes for further details.

Speaker Notes:





There are now six operating "priced lane" projects and five projects projects involving variable tolls on toll roads that have been funded under the U.S. Value Pricing Pilot Program. In addition there are several dozen on-going pre-implementation studies.

Map also shows:

  1. New HOT lanes under construction – San Diego (I-15) and Houston (Katy Freeway)
  2. New Express Toll Lanes under construction – I-95 (Baltimore) AND I-635 (Dallas)

Map also shows:

  1. Conversions from HOV to HOT that will come on line soon – I-680, CA; SR 167, WA; and variable pricing of existing I-15 HOT lanes, UT
  2. New HOT lanes proposed in Northern VA, on I-95 and I-495

There are many more projects under development, not shown on the map.

Slide 10

Express Toll Lanes


SR 91, Orange County, CA

An image showing SR 91 Express Toll Lanes in Orange County, California. Plastic pylons separate Express Toll Lanes. Photo: California Private Transportation Co

Slide 11

Express Toll Lanes Have Worked

SR 91:

  • Toll-payers save 20-30 minutes.
  • Trip time is reliable.

A chart showing SR 91 Express Toll Lanes have worked.  The priced lanes shows traffic moving at a higher speed (miles per hour) compared to free lanes.

Slide 12

Express Toll Lanes Have Worked

SR 91:

  • HOT lanes carry more vehicles per lane.

A chart showing SR 91 express toll lanes details. See speaker notes for further details.

Speaker Notes:

One of the most important lessons we have learned is that pricing can have a powerful effect on maintaining freeway efficiency.

In the peak hour, the each of the Express Lanes on State Route 91 currently carry twice the number of vehicles per lane that the adjacent toll-free lanes do. Note that this is NOT number of persons. Since each vehicle on the Express Lanes carries more people on average, the difference is even greater with regard to number of persons.

As traffic engineers know, under severe congestion, freeway vehicle throughput can be drastically reduced. Pricing ensures that freeway operational efficiency is not lost due to excess demand.

Slide 13

HOV to HOT Conversion

San Diego, I-15

  • Eight miles, two reversible lanes.
  • Tolls vary dynamically.
  • Ensures free-flowing traffic.

An image of a variable message sign informing motorists of the going rate prior to the entry point (FASTRAK $2.00)

Speaker Notes:

The first type involves converting High Occupancy Vehicle lanes into High Occupancy Toll or HOT lanes, where lower occupancy vehicles are permitted if they pay a toll.

The toll increases with traffic demand to ensure that traffic in the lanes is always free flowing.

Dynamic pricing makes San Diego's I-15 HOT lanes unique. Tolls may change as frequently as every six minutes. A variable message sign informs motorists of the going rate prior to the entry points.

Slide 14

HOV to HOT: Public Opinion


  • 70% approval for existing HOT lanes.
  • 84% favor HOT lanes extension.
  • Considered "fair."

A chart displaying results of Public Opinion in reference of HOV to HOT. See speaker notes for futher details.

Speaker Notes:

Low-income motorists value the lanes as "insurance" for a reliable trip time when they need to be somewhere on time – for work, or to pick up a kid from day care – just as high-income motorists do.

That is why there is no significant difference between high and low-income motorists with regard to approval of priced lanes. Both groups approve the I-15 HOT lanes at a 70 to 80% rate or higher.

Slide 15

Variable Tolls on Toll Facilities


  • New York's water crossings.
  • Ft. Myers bridges.

An image of a billboard sign displaying Half-Priced Tolls at certain times of the day Monday thru Friday.

Speaker Notes:

Higher peak period prices on existing toll facilities can reduce congestion by shifting travel to other routes, modes, or times of the day. These shifts can improve traffic flow, and thereby also reduce air pollution and fuel consumption. Pricing in general reduces human resource costs caused by congestion delays. It provides improved signals as to whether or not capacity expansion is necessary, and may reduce or delay the need to expand capacity.

Slide 16

Variable Tolls on Toll Facilities Have Worked

A chart displaying the results of Midpoint Bridge, Ft. Myers, Fl.  See speaker notes for furhter details.

Speaker Notes:

In the half hour before the morning rush hours (6:30am to 7am) and for two hours after the morning rush hours (9-11am) the toll is discounted by 50%. This led to a significant increases in traffic during the discounted periods, and corresponding reductions during the rush hours.

Slide 17

Challenges with Pricing Strategies: Public Acceptance

  • Public acceptance issues:
    • Geographic, income, and user equity.
    • Public attitudes - double taxation, tolling existing lanes, trust in government to use revenues "wisely."
  • Strategies to address issues:
    • Toll discounts or credits based on income.
    • Reduce existing tax burdens.
    • Increase public understanding of traffic management benefits.

Speaker Notes:

"User" equity refers to trucks vs. personal travel

Priced lanes (both express lanes and HOT lanes) present operational issues.

HOT lanes additionally present enforcement issues

Slide 18

Challenges with Pricing Strategies: Technical

  • Issues:
    • Costs and financial feasibility
    • Enforcement
    • Traffic operations
  • Strategies to address issues:
    • Improve financial feasibility by tolling some existing capacity.
    • If all vehicles pay, enforcement is easier.
    • New technologies are helping solve operations and enforcement concerns.

Slide 19

Moving Forward: Urban Partnership Agreements

  • The Objective

    To advance the U.S. Congestion Initiative by enabling cities to systematically progress towards implementation of broad congestion pricing over the course of the next three years.

Slide 20

US DOT Congestion Mitigation Initiative - Urban Partnerships

  • Four components:
    • Broad congestion pricing
    • New or expanded bus rapid transit
    • Expanded telecommuting/flexible work schedules
    • Technology/operations strategies
  • Plus:
    • Expedited completion of key capacity projects

Slide 21

Moving Forward through the Value Pricing Pilot Program

Target Projects:

  • Pricing of existing major roadways in a broad area
  • Priced Managed Lane Networks
  • Cordon Pricing
  • Parking Pricing


  • Constituency Building/Public Outreach
  • Project Development/PPP
  • Implementation/Evaluation

Slide 22

Moving Forward with HOT Lanes and Express Toll Lanes

Target Projects:

  • Existing HOV lanes that are underutilized.
  • Existing HOV lanes that have degraded service levels due to high traffic volumes.
  • Proposed new HOV lanes.
  • Proposed freeway expansion projects.

Slide 23

"Congestion is not a fact of life. We need a new approach, and we need it now."

Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta
May 2006

Speaker Notes:

On May 16, then Secretary of Transportation Mineta announced A National Strategy to Reduce Congestion on America's Transportation Network.

I like what he said when he made this announcement: Congestion is not a "fact of life"

The Congestion Initiative challenges FHWA and our partners to reduce the personal effects we feel from suffering in traffic. We need to find ways to innovate new strategies to relieve traffic tie-ups, congestion, and the toll it takes on our economies and on our lives.

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