Priced Managed Lanes constitute the primary form of congestion pricing as applied in the United States. Through the use of special freeway lanes, whose access is controlled by vehicle class and/or pricing, congestion-free travel can now be provided to customers regardless of the level of congestion in the adjacent non-managed lanes.
Initially conceived as the allowance of previously prohibited vehicles to high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes in exchange for the payment of a fee, otherwise known as high occupancy / toll (HOT) lanes, managed lanes have expanded in scope to include a variety of implementations, without any inherent policy regarding HOVs. Of particular interest are managed lanes that collect a toll for use of the facility. Originally developed under one of two applications – HOT lanes or express toll lanes (ETL) – managed lanes are studied and implemented with many operational variants. The broad definition of managed lanes not only includes these variants, but any application that involves system-management techniques such as time-of-day restrictions, vehicle-type restrictions, and congestion pricing. In addition to HOT lanes and ETL facilities, common types of managed lanes in the United States are HOV lanes, truck-designated lanes, and limited-access express lanes.
In many ways, managed lanes are selling an uncongested trip in the HOV facility against the possibility of severe congestion in adjacent general purpose lanes. However, the very same severe congestion in the general purpose lanes that managed lanes insure against has tended to cause animosity on the part of the general public toward HOV lanes if they are underutilized. As a means of mitigating the “empty lane syndrome,” priced managed lanes have been promoted as an effective way of utilizing the excess capacity without compromising the travel time reliability and insurance of the managed lanes.
In addition to HOT lanes, which include explicit benefits for carpoolers, ETL concepts have also been promoted as a means of enhancing mobility within congested corridors and regions. First implemented in Orange County, CA, as the privately built and operated State Route 91 (SR-91) express toll corridor, ETL facilities provide the same benefits of HOT lanes (exclusive right-of-way with congestion-free trips along the length of the corridor), but they do not carry the same implied benefit to carpools and vanpools. The SR-91 express toll facility has, at times, provided free use by three-people-or-more (HOV-3+) users, but has also at other times required partial toll payment by these users in its almost 20 years of operations.
Altogether, contemporary managed lanes have shown themselves to be a reliable congestion-free alternative, providing travelers a means of escaping severe congestion and reducing the extra time required to plan for important trips.
In January 2008, the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Commission clearly stated the case for using pricing as a tool for managing demand: “The Commission believes the National Interest in quality transportation is best served when… transportation systems are appropriately priced. To avoid imbalances between the transportation capacity available at any particular time and the demand for it, pricing can help provide a guide for the most efficient use of scarce investment dollars.” Furthermore, the Commission established a very specific recommendation for the future of transportation investment in the United States: “In brief, the new user-financed Federal surface transportation program the Commission proposes will be performance-driven, outcome-based, generally mode-neutral, and refocused to pursue activities of genuine national interest”
Priced managed lanes are no longer simply an experiment to utilize excess capacity in HOV lanes; they are now a primary mechanism to achieve the Commission’s goal for transportation infrastructure. Managed lanes are only successful when they perform to users’ expectations, otherwise the convenience and cost penalties would be insufficiently rewarded with travel time savings and reliability. At their core functionality, then, managed lanes are “performance-driven” and “outcome-based”.
Copyright © 2015 - David Ungemah