Since their conception 25 years ago, opposition to Priced Express Lanes is present in every project, every corridor, and every region within which they have been proposed. In many situations, issues driving opposition have been overcome by adapting policies and design to mitigate concerns. For example, a low-income assistance program was developed on the Los Angeles I-10 / I-110 ExpressLanes to alleviate concerns regarding income equity in both corridors. As another example, the Washington State Department of Transportation altered the access plan for the SR-167 Express Lanes near Seattle to respond not only to safety concerns, but also to provide more opportunities to enter and use the Express Lanes for local residents.
In most of the early Express Lanes projects, the priced express lanes were relatively low-cost and easy-to-alter conversions of existing HOV lanes. Many of the newer priced express lanes, though, involve large-scale corridor reconstruction efforts, often valuing more than $1B. One trend that I have noticed is that the larger the project, coupled with unfamiliarity within a region (or even subregion) with priced express lanes, opposition is louder and stronger than it has been in the past. Furthermore, and constituting a more recent change, citizen public opposition is coupled with local official opposition. Proposed priced express lanes in Charlotte, North Carolina, on I-77 have seen resolutions voted upon by Cornelius, Davidson, and Mecklenburg County to persuade state officials from implementing the project. Similarly, opposition from the Tampa City Council has joined local citizens regarding the I-275 Express Lanes in Tampa, Florida.
What does this all mean? What shouldn’t be news to anyone is that public outreach, involvement, and engagement is absolutely essential for building consensus for new priced express lanes. As I have discussed before, this cannot be done in a vacuum. It must be done collaboratively and openly. The lessons from the past indicate that policies must adapt to reflect local desires and alleviate concerns. This tends to be done only when working directly with the public and local officials throughout the development process. As projects increase in size, scale, and impact, it becomes more important to think of public engagement outside of the traditional environmental process and more as an ongoing conversation that lends itself to negotiation and compromise. Most of all, if project proponents hope to change the opinions of opponents or those more neutral on the project, then they must also be prepared to have their own opinions changed in the course of conversation, too.