As a congestion pricing expert, it is easy to forget that pricing is not a cure-all for roadway system management. As a recent article in the Washington Post indicated, the I-95 Express Lanes currently experience congestion upwards of “a few miles in both the regular and express lanes.” This appears to be a function of merging movements at the end of the facility. As stated by the Washington Post:
This is one place where Virginia’s HOT (high-occupancy toll) lanes are not working. The variable toll does, indeed, shoot up, just as the dynamic-tolling theory says it should. That’s supposed to discourage drivers from entering the lanes, but it doesn’t relieve the slowdown, which is a function of the merge of the two express lanes with the three regular lanes.
Instead of viewing pricing as a cure-all, we (as an industry) need to be mindful of the design environment in which the express lanes are implemented. Artificial bottlenecks created at lane drops, forced merges, and forced exits must be constantly evaluated, and if necessary, removed. Furthermore, underestimating the effects of bottlenecks in early implementation can hamstring future implementation of express lanes projects, as a negative message relating to the effectiveness of express lanes can emerge and become simply part of the local vernacular. This points to rigorous and robust microsimulation analysis, with sensitivity analyses for peak traffic behavior.
Ultimately, these issues can be overcome and addressed in a timely manner. The Washington Post author indicates one possibility for I-95 — the extension of the Express Lanes to Massaponax. Given the high rates of revenue generated by the facility, such an option may be within the realm of possibility for Virginia DOT and Transurban.